Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pretentious Hurdles

I can't tell if I've been busy or lazy. Or maybe both. My cooking seems to have gone down the tubes, but occasionally I'm still able to throw together a meal. Lately I've been into cooking (when I actually cook) super fast dishes that take little to no prep time. As long as I have onions and garlic, I feel like I can come up with something.

Fortunately I found shrimp in the freezer and tomatoes in the cupboard so all I needed was some feta and dill to finish this recipe off. I've often come across versions of this recipe in Greek restaurants and happily discovered that it's quite simple to assemble. In fact, the most difficult hurdle for me was figuring out how to cook my fancy Israeli couscous that had no cooking directions on the package. I guess the message here is that if you're paying top dollar for an imported product, you should know what you're doing. Who knew that grocery items could be pretentious?

Shrimp With Tomatoes and Feta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can of diced tomatoes, with juices
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Cooked couscous, orzo, or rice, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

2. Add the tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomato juices thicken slightly.

3. Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the dill and shrimp and season with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the feta over the top. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese is melted, about 12 minutes. Serve over couscous (or orzo or rice), if desired. Serves 2.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Don't Forget the Naan!

Here's a quick pantry meal if, like me, you haven't been shopping and have no fresh vegetables or meat or eggs so just keep going out for dinner or eat cereal on the couch. (Oh, just me?) And yes, I recognize that it's probably just me that has basmati rice and red lentils in "my pantry." But you could use regular lentils and plain white rice...or just order it in from your local Indian restaurant. And maybe throw in a few samosas and alu paratha and...

Red Lentil Dal

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups water
1 cup dried red lentils
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup basmati rice, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
1 jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

2. Stir in the garlic, turmeric, cumin, and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add the water and lentils and bring to boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Puree the dal partially with an immersion blender with a few quick pulses, if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and top with cilantro and chili, if desired.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On the Lees, Please

I made mussels the other night to satisfy a craving that I had (which was probably more for the fries that I always have with mussels, but refuse to make). I considered a Thai-Curry-Lemongrass extravaganza but worried that mine would never live up to the versions I've had in restaurants. I mean, it's kind of a waste if the sauce doesn't turn out. Then what would I do with a lone, 2-foot baguette?

Instead of simply relying on my old standby of mussels steamed in white wine, I added...heavy cream! And more garlic! You know. To make them...different.

Typically "they" say that you should cook with a wine that you would drink, so why not one that you would drink with your meal? Muscadet, a white wine (and region) from the far western reaches of the Loire Valley, is a classic pairing with oysters, so I figured that it would work just as well with mussels. The light, crisp acidity also helps to balance and cut through the richness of the cream sauce. You'll see from the label that this particular Muscadet is from Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, a sub-appellation which is the highest producing in all of the Muscadet region. The bold, "Sur Lie" indicates that the wine has been in contact with the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation ("on the lees") during the aging process in order to enhance the flavor and complexity of the wine. (The French have recently - in the last 15 years - regulated the inclusion of the term sur lie on labels to wines that comply with set guidelines.) Now you know everything.

Mussels in White Wine and Garlic Cream Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 pounds mussels, washed and scrubbed, beards removed (discard any open or broken shells)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Rustic, crusty bread

1. Place a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the butter and garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 - 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, cover, and cook for 6 - 8 minutes, until the mussels have opened. (Discard any unopened mussels.)

2. Remove the mussels to a serving bowl, leaving the broth in the pot. Add the heavy cream to the broth and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Once at a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes to thicken slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then stir in the parsley. Pour the broth over the mussels, allowing any sediment (but not garlic!) to remain in the bottom of the pot. Serve with crusty bread if desired. Serves two.

*NOTE: Save any leftover garlic cream sauce and mussels (removed from their shells) to toss with a pasta like fettuccine or cappellini. (I'd show my photo of the pasta, but since I had removed their shells, the mussels just aren't as cute on their own, ya know?)
So here's a mess of garlic instead.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Olive Oil. It's What's for Breakfast.

Granola is one of those "health foods" that isn't necessarily healthy, unless you make it yourself. Even then it's questionable. (The amount of fat and calories significantly limits portions.) I usually make it with butter because I like the flavor better than a neutral oil, but then I remembered reading about Melissa Clark's version with olive oil. At least it's a "good fat."

The olive oil is a really subtle flavor in this recipe (so subtle that I don't think I can even taste it) so don't worry that this is going to taste "weird." I mean, there's olive oil cake and olive oil gelato and those taste pretty fabulous so how bad could this be? This recipe, like all granola recipes, is really simple to throw together and makes probably three times the amount for the same price of a packaged bag from the store.
And you only have to include the components that you like. I hate dates and raisins so you'll never see them in my version. I also thought Melissa's version was a little sweet for my taste so I decreased the sugar. Tweak the recipe to your specific tastes and enjoy a "healthy" breakfast. Just not all in one sitting.

Olive Oil Granola

(Adapted from Melissa Clark)

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cups raw pistachios, hulled
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup chopped dried cherries or dried cranberries (optional)
Yogurt, for serving (optional)
Fresh berries, for serving (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 300˚F. In a large bowl combine the oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, almonds, coconut, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, and salt. Spread the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown.

2. Transfer the granola to a large bowl and add the dried fruit, if using, tossing to combine. Serve with yogurt and fruit, if desired. Makes about 9 cups.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

All Minxed Up

You may have noticed that I referenced a very important manicure here and here. Having nothing to do with cooking I've decided to reveal them now. Ta-dah!

My hand wearing the Cleves Ring by Wendy Brandes

What is so special about this manicure? For one thing it is not a polish but a special adhesive that is applied with heat. It's called Minx. For another thing, the only reason that I got Minxed is because my fabulous jewelry designing and blogging friend Wendy (and Jen) and I had too much to drink one night, and I ended up taking a few photos of her nails, one of which ended up here. The Minx people saw it, wanted to use the photo and to also give us both manicures in hopes that we might try to take some more fabulous Minx photos. Read a fantastic summary of our experience on Wendy's blog. Sadly, we forgot to drink more Prosecco! (Incidentally, the nails have held up since Saturday, even during my Bolognese extravaganza of washing and chopping and cooking, the same afternoon that we took the majority of our photos.) Stay tuned for more experiences with our Minx nails. They have a very special event to attend tonight...

A detail of Wendy's super cool VIP holographic nails

A detail of my red/blue nails

Monday, January 18, 2010

Now That's Italian!

Turns out that I had a spare 6 hours to make a classic Bolognese meat sauce this weekend, or, Ragù as it is called in Bologna. (I worked it in while also taking photos of manicures...) I don't know why I thought this was a great idea. I never even had this classic when I was actually in Bologna, so it's not like I have some weird sensory memory that I'm clinging to. But...I grabbed Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking cookbook and got to work.

Here's the thing about Marcella. She is a marvelous cook and I love her books, but she doesn't always offer suggested times for the various steps in her least not for this recipe. (I rely on them to help me gauge how long each step should take!) Sooo...when I first glanced at this recipe I figured it would be about 20 minutes of hands on cooking, and then 3 - 4 hours of more or less unattended cooking. Wrong! It was more like TWO HOURS of hands on cooking time. Don't ask me why I thought it would take, like, 8 minutes to simmer (not boil!) an entire cup of wine until it disappeared, but I did. takes, like, 58 minutes to do that! Maybe my heat was too low, but Marcella said medium heat. Maybe my pot was too small so there was less surface area to encourage evaporation. Whatever. I somehow screwed it up and ended up standing at the stove for much longer than I had anticipated.

In the end, the Ragù was delicious (even the next day when I finally took the photos), but I think I would prefer just a little less wine than called for, so I've adjusted the recipe below. It's the most noticeable flavor to me
and I would prefer just a bit less of it in the sauce, more in my glass. (Incidentally I used a Gavi, a classic Italian white from Piedmont.) I also substituted fettuccine for the traditional homemade tagliatelle for obvious reasons. (Not obvious? I don't have a pasta maker.) Now I'm ready for a marathon. Of Jersey Shore.

Pasta Bolognese
(Adapted from Marcella Hazan)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck (or 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/4 pound ground pork)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups whole Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juices
1 1/2 pounds pasta (fresh tagliatelle or dried fettuccine or rigatoni)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the oil, butter, and chopped onion and cook until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped celery and carrot and cook, stirring to coat, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the beef, and pork if using, about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Cook, stirring to crumble the meat, until it is cooked through and no longer pink, about 7 minutes.

3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has cooked off completely (can be up to 20 minutes).

4. Add the wine and allow it to simmer until it has completely evaporated (can be up to 30 minutes). Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a rolling simmer and then reduce the heat so that it cooks at the lowest simmer possible, with just an occasional bubble breaking the surface. Continue to cook, uncovered, for 3 (or up to 4) hours, stirring occasionally. If the sauce begins to dry out and sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a 1/2 cup water. At the end of the cooking time there should no longer be any excess liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning.

5. Toss the sauce with the cooked drained pasta and serve with Parmesan on the side. Serves 6.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Last Minute Muffins

I've had a couple of cans of pumpkin kicking around since Thanksgiving. I never got around to making any pumpkin pies, so have been trying to figure out a way to get rid of them. I thought about making my pumpkin pancakes before heading off to the gym on Saturday, but then realized that I didn't have any eggs. After the gym (and a trip to the supermarket) I decided to throw together a batch of muffins before a very important manicure appointment (more on that at a later date).

I love the flavor and texture of these muffins, but I might suggest a little streusel topping just to make them look a little cooler. They aren't particularly healthy to begin with, so it's not like you'd be instantly turning them into dessert, but they look healthy with that pepita garnish. Instead I threw in some chopped chocolate just to see what would happen. What happened was that I had a delicious pumpkin muffin studded with melty chocolate pieces! Unfortunately this recipe doesn't use an entire (15 ounce) can of pumpkin, so you might want to make a double batch or use the leftovers to make this for dinner.

Pumpkin Muffins

(Adapted from Gourmet)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup canned pure pumpkin
1/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoon raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas), divided
1/2 cup chocolate pieces, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the center. Butter the muffin pan if it's not nonstick.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, pumpkin, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined, then stir in 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin seeds and chocolate, if using.

3. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Bake until a wooden pick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. Makes a dozen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Apple (Crisp) a Day

Apple crisp is one dessert that I had pretty regularly growing up. We didn't have a dessert every day, but apple crisp was easy enough to make that it became a familiar after dinner treat. And it's delicious, especially with vanilla ice cream. Or even the next day, cold for breakfast.

I do try to eat fruit every day, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. (And you can tell by the apples that have been gathering in my crisper over the past few weeks.) Somehow eating those apples covered in butter and sugar is a lot more appealing than taking a giant chomp out of them. Knowing that it's dangerous for me to have more than a small amount of dessert hanging around, I decided to make individual sized apple crisps.

The recipe below is good for 2 - 3 desserts, depending on the size of your apples and the size of the baking dishes that you have. I used 2 apples and heaped my small ramekins full of apples. Since my dishes were so little I ended up making a third. (Be sure to pile in the filling as the crisp will deflate slightly after the apples are cooked.) Not a bad way to eat an apple a day.

Individual Apple Crisp

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound apples, peeled, cored, cut into chunks (about 2 medium apples)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the apples and lemon juice, if using, toss together, and transfer evenly to two (6 - 8 ounce) ramekins or gratin dishes. (Mound the apple mixture about 1-inch above the rim of the dish.)

2. Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit to cover (there will be a generous amount).

3. Place the baking dishes on a sheet pan (or foil - to catch any drips) and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbly and soft when pierced with a knife. Cool the crisps on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.
Serves two.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday Supper

I survived my wine exam tonight and I'd like to think it was due in part to the hearty meal that I enjoyed (but didn't cook!) the night before. (What? Carbo-loading only counts for marathons? Whatever.) My awesome friend, Chad, made the most amazing Veal Ragout and I was a lucky dinner guest. (Thanks also to Ken for hosting!) We often get together for early Sunday suppers as a way to transition from the weekend to the work week, but we finish early enough to still catch our favorite Sunday night shows. (True Blood isn't currently on, so I went with The Simpsons 20th anniversary show last night.) We usually go out for dinner so this homemade meal was a delicious change.

I attempted to get the recipe so that I could share it with you, but it was kind of like asking your grandmother for a recipe. "First I sauteed some meat...then I sauteed some vegetables and added some seasoning...then I sauteed some pork belly...then I threw it all together with my leftover steak from The Palm, some red wine, and my
homemade beef stock...then I just let it cook for a couple of hours." All of which roughly translates to, "'s just a little of this and that." (Sorry, Chad. I'm sure you've never been compared to a grandmother before! Ha!) I think that I'll just have to be present the next time this ragout hits the dinner circuit. (Call me!) And I'll take copious notes. I'm thinking that this might do really well in the slow cooker that I haven't used in a year...

Below is my interpretation of the recipe. Note that we start with a delightfully oozy wheel of fat, baked Camembert, and there is nary a vegetable in sight.

1. First, roast a standing prime rib roast on Christmas Eve. (Thanks, Chad! It was delish!)

2. Make sure that the rib roast is 11 pounds so that the (only) five people eating dinner get a Flintstonian 2 pound chop each. This will guarantee leftovers. Simmer the leftover bones for hours in order to create the base stock for the ragout.

3. Bake a round of Camembert just before serving your pasta dinner. Serve it to your guests to try to distract them from how you actually made the ragout.

4. Alternatively, play The Price Is Right on the Wii.

5. Serve and enjoy the ragout over rigatoni. It is so delicious that you temporarily forget that you want to know how to make it.

6. You are now in a food coma. What was the point of this again?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wine Whine

Yep. I had to drink all of that wine to study for my exam at the International Wine Center. I studied at the gym, in my bed, and on the subway. In 24 hours it will all be over. Cross your fingers that I get an A+!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Perfect Polenta

Why didn't anyone ever tell me that you could make polenta in the oven and that you didn't have to break your arm slowly, slowly, slowly pouring and stirring the cornmeal into the boiling water? Granted baking it takes about 5 times as long, but if you can't lift your arm after you're done, what's the point? I am loving this recipe!

Of course I have Martha Rose Shulman from my favorite Recipes For Health column of The New York Times to thank for this discovery. I had to turn to her column for some dinner inspiration tonight. I haven't shopped for groceries in about a week so I'm down to the pantry staples and going out almost every night doesn't help. Of course I wasn't in the mood to go to the store after work when it was completely packed, so I had to get inspired from what I already had.

Fortunately I uncovered a package of cornmeal in the back of my cupboard that I probably should have thrown away about 2 years ago. Then I managed to find some leftover tomato sauce buried in my freezer that I just had to defrost. Voila! Dinner! By the way,
polenta is a great source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B6 (and a gluten free alternative) in case you were wondering why you would want to eat something that resembles Cream of Wheat for dinner. Listen, just throw a bunch of butter and Parmesan on it and you'll eat it...and like it! (Omit if you care about fat and calories.)

Oven Cooked Polenta with Tomato Sauce
(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)

1 cup polenta (cornmeal)
1 quart water (4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus additional for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Tomato Sauce (or high quality prepared tomato sauce)

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a 2-quart baking dish. Stir together, and place in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the butter and return to the oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and stir again. Return to the oven for 10 minutes more.

2. Remove from the oven, and stir in the Parmesan. Spoon onto plates, make a depression in the middle, and spoon 1/4 heaped cup of tomato sauce into the depression. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve. Serves four.

Variation: Polenta and Tomato Sauce Gratin - (You can make this dish with leftover or chilled polenta.)
1. Preheat the oven to 375
˚F. Oil a 2-quart gratin dish. Cut the leftover polenta into squares or rectangles, and arrange in the gratin dish, overlapping the pieces slightly. Spread tomato sauce over the slices, sprinkle on Parmesan, and drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
2. Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until sizzling. Remove from the oven and serve.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Drunken Scallops

Yes, it's back to the daily grind, new diets (for some), and a long cold winter...but it doesn't have to be all bad! Plan a last minute beach getaway. Eat a calorie laden plate of spaghetti carbonara. Try a cocktail you've never had before. Smoke a cigarette. No, don't smoke a cigarette! I'm just checking to see if you're paying attention. Don't ever smoke cigarettes!

Because of the recent month-long holiday excess, I'm not quite ready for austerity. Soup and salad isn't going to cut it. Somehow scallops seem fancy even though they are extremely easy to prepare and don't actually cost that much. And for the calorie/health conscious, they are about 75 calories per 3 ounce serving, and are chock full of vitamin b12, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium. However, if you are really health conscious, you might want to skip this particular preparation. Bake or broil them instead.

Bacon and scallops are a classic combination. I'm sure you've encountered a bacon wrapped scallop at least once in your life. Maybe a bacon wrapped water chestnut? (What's that about?) Anyway, this recipe eliminates all of the handiwork required of wrapping, and simply has you cook the scallops in the rendered bacon fat. (See what I mean about being health conscious?) Oh, and here's a personal note about making the sauce. I never seem to have white wine in my apartment during the winter. For some reason I do have tons of sparkling wine, so I added Champagne (it was just New Year's!) in place of the white wine...and drank the rest. Cheers!

Seared Scallops With Bacon
(Adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound large sea scallops (about 6)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1 small shallot)
1/2 cup white wine or champagne or chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Sauteed spinach, if desired

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium-low heat, and add the bacon. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until brown and crisp, about 8 minutes.

2. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, and transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Drain the excess bacon fat, leaving a thin coat on bottom of pan, about 1 tablespoon.

3. Increase the heat to medium, sprinkle the scallops on both sides with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan. Cook until golden brown and opaque, about 3 minutes per side.
Transfer the scallops to a serving dish.

4. Add the shallots to the pan. When the shallots are translucent, about 1 minute, add the wine (or stock). Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Pour over the scallops and top with the reserved bacon. Serve over sauteed spinach if desired. Serves 2.