Thursday, February 24, 2011

Better Bacon

I know. I think the picture says it all. Who needs an actual blog post? Is it weird that I made a sheet tray full of bacon for dinner? I think not. And I fully recommend cooking in the oven vs. the stove top. It contains the bacon grease splatters so that they don't fly all over your kitchen (or you) and I think that the smell that permeates one's home is also slightly lessened. Unless you prefer that heady aromatic quality that frying bacon lends to your home for weeks on end...

I will have to revisit this technique of placing the bacon in a cold oven vs. preheating it first. I've never made it that way before, but found a tip on the internet suggesting that it is the preferred method. Maybe the fat renders more gradually? Next time I will conduct a very scientific test by cooking my bacon both ways, tasting, and then taking photos...if there is anything left after the first batch.

Roasted Bacon

Bacon slices

1. Arrange the bacon slices on a rimmed sheet pan (do not crowd) and place on the center rack of a cold oven. Close oven door and turn the oven on to 400°F.

2. Cook the bacon for 14 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the bacon, how crispy you like it, and how long it takes your oven to reach temperature.

3. Remove the pan from the oven. Transfer the bacon to another sheet pan lined with paper towels to absorb the excess fat. You can pour the liquid fat into a heat-resistant container to save for other uses, or discard. Enjoy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Max for the Minimum

Most Indian dishes, like Thai, are best left to the professionals, especially when one lives in NYC where you can order anything for delivery. I have actually taken a Thai cooking class where I learned to make all sorts of things, including a homemade red curry paste, but I have yet to ever make anything from that class...EVER AGAIN. I think the long ingredient lists that are common for both cuisines tend to be a little off putting, even for the more adventurous cooks among us, that we are more than happy to let someone else handle the cooking.

But then I saw what appeared to be a quite abbreviated recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala and I shockingly had most everything in my pantry. It was a long weekend so I figured, why not? Amazingly all I had to buy was the chicken and the yogurt. The recipe is pretty straightforward but should come with a warning: The chicken has to marinate OVERNIGHT. So start this recipe the DAY BEFORE you hope to eat it. (One point for ordering in!) Oh, and regarding the chicken which is meant to be broiled: If you have a tiny stove with a tiny broiler which requires a tiny pan, try TJ Maxx. I stopped into Williams-Sonoma to buy a quarter sheet pan and then turned right around when I saw that they wanted $30 for it. I walked across the street to TJ Maxx where I found the perfect sized pan, though perhaps not as high quality, for $3.99! Yeah! So that's my shopping tip of the day. I also picked up a really good quality "spoonula" for another $3.99. Boom.

Now I don't know how traditional this recipe is because I didn't bother to compare it to any others, but it was pretty darn tasty. And it might not be on the same level as the chicken tikka masala at some of my favorite Indian restaurants, but it was my first time and I think I did pretty well! Next time I think I might pick up some naan to go along with it...but then I'd probably just lazily pick up the rest of the meal while I was at it.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Adapted from Food & Wine

Masala Marinade
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed

Masala Sauce
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 large onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoons pure chile powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup heavy cream

Basmati rice or naan, if desired

1. Make the marinade: In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cayenne, and turmeric. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Prepare the chicken: Using a sharp knife, make a few shallow slashes in each piece of chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, toss to coat and refrigerate overnight.

3. Preheat the broiler and position a rack about 8 inches from the heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade; scrape off as much of the marinade as possible. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and spread the pieces on a baking sheet. Broil the chicken, turning once or twice, until just cooked through and browned in spots, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to cool and cut it into 1-inch pieces.

4. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the almonds and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a plate and let cool completely. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground.

5. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garam masala, chile powder, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce to desired consistency.

6. Stir in the cream and ground almonds and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the chicken; simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, and serve. Serves about 6.

Make Ahead: The Chicken Tikka Masala can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently before serving.

Variation: The marinade and sauce can also be prepared with shrimp, lamb, or vegetables.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heart Shaped Box

OK so maybe I got caught up watching the Grammys and never bothered to post the actual recipe for my cutesy heart shaped brownies. (I HAD to see what Gaga was wearing in that egg!) But I ate the heart shaped brownies while watching the Grammys. That must count for something, right?

Normally I make cocoa brownies because cocoa is something that I will keep on hand for chocolate emergencies. Bittersweet chocolate has no shelf life when I'm around, and unsweetened chocolate just seems like a tragedy. However, I was getting low on cocoa and found a random hunk of unsweetened chocolate in the back of my cupboard. Fortunately it was actually labeled 'unsweetened' because let me tell you, the only other way to tell is to taste, and that wouldn't have been pretty.

Since I am a hoarder, I was able to find a fabulous brownie recipe in one of my gazillion cookbooks. Bittersweet by Alice Medrich is one of my faves for chocolate. This recipe uses unsweetened chocolate and is not unlike my recipe for cocoa brownies, except that it uses only one bowl. Bonus! The ice water bath at the end seems a bit much for your average brownie, and could probably be skipped, but it does cool them down to an appropriate eating temperature post haste! (Sorry, it just felt right.)

Once cool, I ordinarily start cutting one little brownie square off after the other until my little brownie 'taste' has turned into one gigantic brownie meal. But just for yucks I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut out holiday appropriate shapes. (Little brownie hearts are kinda sorta edgy, no?) You could do that too, or just cut them into little squares and try to stuff them into a heart shaped box. From Duane Reade. Gossip Girl? Nirvana? Anyone?

One Bowl Classic Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Line an 8-inch-square metal baking pan with foil or parchment paper so that it extends beyond the pan. (See photo above and below.) In the top of a double boiler (or large non-reactive mixing bowl) set over barely simmering water, or on low power in a microwave, melt the butter and chocolate together. Stir often, and remove from the heat when a few lumps remain. Stir until smooth.

2. Stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring thoroughly with each addition. Add the flour and stir until very smooth, about 1 minute, until the mixture pulls away from sides of bowl. Add the nuts, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare a water bath. Pour ice water into a large roasting pan to a depth of just less than 1-inch. Remove the pan from the oven and place it in the water bath, being careful not to splash water on the brownies. Let cool completely, then lift out by the foil or parchment, and cut into 1-inch squares (or hearts!). Makes 16 brownies.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Celery Side Salad

I am not the biggest fan of celery, never have been, and the fact that it's commonly served as a kids snack smothered in peanut butter astounds me. (Blue cheese dressing? OK.) Kids refuse to eat broccoli but they'll eat celery? Really? Maybe we should be smearing peanut butter on broccoli...Anyhoo, I often have to purchase celery in order to use a single stalk to saute along with a chopped carrot and onion. What's a girl to do with all of the leftovers? Have a side salad!

Now, I generally think of side salads and salads in general as an obvious summer snack, but after an amazing dinner at Maialino where I consumed the maialino al forno (roast suckling pig) among other calorie dense delicacies, the celery salad sounded like the right dish to cut through all of the fat. At Maialino the celery salad is called insalata di sedano and is made with celery, fennel, hazelnuts, and pecorino. I had the celery, hazelnuts, and grana padano at home, so I just made the salad with what I had and I was quite pleased with the results. It's tart yet refreshing and the hazelnuts and cheese make it surprisingly satisfying. It's a side salad I'd like to keep around.

Celery Salad

1/3 cup hazelnuts
4 celery ribs, trimmed and sliced thinly crosswise, delicate leaves reserved
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly shaved Pecorino, Parmesan, or Grana Padano

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 10 - 15 minutes, until fragrant and lightly toasted. Cool and then roughly cop the nuts, discarding excess brown skins.

2. Add the sliced celery to a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice. Season generously with salt and pepper, add the toasted nuts and toss gently to combine. Top with the cheese and chopped celery leaves if desired. Makes 2 salads.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Souper Bowl Sunday

Today is officially the unofficial day for eating buffalo wings, 25-foot long subs, pizza, potato skins, nachos, and chili. All at once. I love how simply watching professional athletes somehow excuses force feeding ourselves 80,000 calories of cheesy goodness. Sign me up.

I posted a chili recipe recently that I thought was going to be the delicious porkiness that I had over Thanksgiving weekend, until I made it and realized I had it all wrong. Well, I have the actual recipe now (Thanks, Eva!) just in time for watching highlarious Super Bowl commercials and a special episode of Glee. Oh, and for watching all of those dudes running around in tight black, gold, green, and white pants. Whatever.

This chili doesn't pretend to be healthy. It's not made with turkey sausages or white beans. It's not chock full of vegetables. It's chock full of pork. That's it. Eat it and weep.

Sausage Chili
(Adapted from Laurent Tourondel's Corn and Sausage Chili)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 pounds sweet or hot Italian pork sausages (about 12 links), casings removed
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne
1 can (28-ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and cook the onion, pepper, and garlic over medium-low heat until they are soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.

2. In a large pot over medium heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and cook the sausage, stirring occasionally and breaking up with a wooden spoon, until it is cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Spoon off and discard any excess fat that accumulates. Stir in the cooked vegetables, chili powder, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, and cayenne. Cook for 1 minute.

3 . In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes with their juices (do not strain) until smooth. Add the pureed tomatoes and chicken stock to the pot. Add the Tabasco and season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until thickened. Remove the bay leaf and serve with warm corn bread, chopped jalapeno, shredded cheddar, and sour cream. Serves 6-ish.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pot Head

WARNING: This recipe requires you to use every pot and pan that you own.
I'm still doing dishes.

Not that that's over with, this is a delicious lasagna recipe that you should totally try! Because my clever local wine store emails me updates on weekly wine specials, I (obvs!) have to buy whatever they are selling. Last week they were promoting a pinot noir that was mentioned in the NY Times weekly tasting report on 2008 Oregon pinots. I like pinots, this one happened to be a good buy, so I decided to make the suggested pairing recipe to go along with it. I didn't realize when I was shopping for mushrooms that I would have to use 18 different pots to make it.

According to Florence Fabricant:
Like pinot noir, mushrooms are Oregon’s pride, another gift of terroir. The complex flavors in those wines and their bright acidity make them a dandy foil for a sumptuous lasagna.
Listen, this is a sumptuous lasagna and I'm glad that I made it, but honestly if I am going to destroy my kitchen for a recipe I would have hoped that it would have made double the amount in order to get the most out of my sweat equity. So, that is my suggestion to you. Double up. And then make it for someone who actually cares about mushrooms and wine pairings. Otherwise, just saute some 'shrooms, toss them with some pasta and cream, and call it a day. Two pots and you're dunzo.

Mushroom Lasagna
(Adapted from Florence Fabricant)

1/4 pound pancetta, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced
12 sage leaves, slivered
Salt and pepper
2 1/4 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (or black truffle butter)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 pound pasta for lasagna, preferably fresh, parboiled if dry (Pot #1)
3 ounces Grana Padano, grated
1 ounce Parmesan, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cook the pancetta in a large skillet (Pot #2) over medium-low heat, stirring, until the fat starts to render. Increase the heat and cook a few minutes more, until the pancetta begins to brown and crisp. Transfer it to a dish (Pot #3). Add the oil to the pan along with the onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in the mushrooms and cook over medium heat until they soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sage. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan (Pot #4) until just beginning to simmer. Melt the butter (or truffle butter) over low heat in a large saucepan (Pot #5). Whisk the flour into the melted butter. Cook about 1 minute, then gradually whisk in the warm milk. Continue whisking and cooking until the sauce is thick and smooth, about 1 minute more. Season generously with salt and pepper. (Taste the sauce to make sure that it's seasoned well since it is the base of the lasagna.)

3. Cover the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish (Pot #6) with a thin layer of the sauce, then cover it with a layer of pasta. Spread with half the mushrooms, scatter half the pancetta on top, and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Spread a third of the sauce on the cheese. Repeat the layers. Cover with the remaining pasta, spread with the remaining sauce, and scatter the remaining Grana Padano and the Parmesan on top.

4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Makes about 8 servings as a first course or 4 to 6 as a main course.