June 28, 2010

Saturday with Friends

Although it was somewhat last minute, it was wonderful!

We had some friends over Saturday night for a light dinner at our place. The weather was kind and decided to be cool enough to eat and enjoy with just some fans running. Although the wine I bought to have with dinner was awful, just really awful, the rest was lovely.

I made too much of course (I almost doubled the recipe I'm posting here), and unlike other dishes that I usually make, this couldn't be left for the next day. So despite the light fare, we stuffed ourselves so as not to waste one single bite. It was well worth it. Along with the Seafood Stew (which sounds much heavier than it really is), we had some fresh mozzarella and sausage to start, salad, and gelato for desert. Of course plenty of crusty bread was on hand too.

This "stew" is based on a Portuguese Caldeirada Da Marisco, but really, you can find something similar in any seaside town across Europe. It's light, flavorful, and as with all my favorite recipes, customizable. I used mussels, monkfish, and shrimp because they're some of my favorite, but feel free to use clams, squid, halibut - any combo of shelfish and fleshy fish. On a bitter sweet note, we enjoyed this with the knowledge that it may very well have been the last time we would all feel safe about eating mussels or shrimp for a while. It's sad but true.

So in homage to the gulf coast and in the spirit of a speedy and healthful recovery, I hope you'll indulge and enjoy!

Summer Seafood Stew
15-20 mussels (a little trick I learned from the Barefoot Contessa that really works well: place the mussels in a bowl of cool water made cloudy by flour. Because they're filters, the mussels with suck in the flour and expel any grit or sand in them. Do this about 15 minute before you cook them)
1/2 lb large deveined shrimp
3/4 lb firm, fleshy white-fish, cut into 1" pieces
2 large white potatoes cut into cubes
3 large tomatoes cut into cubes
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
2 tbs butter
2 cups white wine
32 oz vegetable broth (or seafood broth)
Fresh cilantro

-In a large pot, saute the garlic and shallots in 1 tbs of butter until soft
-Add broth and bring to boil. Add potatoes and boil until half way cooked
-Add wine, tomatoes, and fish, let boil for a minute or two before adding the shrimp and mussels
-Let everything boil until potatoes are cooked, mussels have opened, and shrimp are pink
-Add last tbs of butter and swirl in. Taste it, depending on the broth you use, you may want to add some salt or pepper. Also depending on broth and wine, if it's too salty or intense, add a cup of water.
-Before serving, add a few fresh sprigs of cilantro to bowl.
-This will not last overnight, so enjoy it! Will serve 4-6 people.

This next recipe was the morning after. There weren't any leftovers obviously, but there was some sausage, cheese, and bread left. Mmmm, left over breakfast!

Morning After Grilled Cheese
2 slices pan de casa
Spreadable soft herbed cheese, like alouette or goat cheese
Thin slices of sausage
1+ tbs of olive oil

-Heat oil in a nonstick pan
-Spread cheese on both sides of bread, add the thin cuts of sausage
-Sear sandwich. Depending on the bread, it may need more oil when you flip it because of absorption

June 24, 2010

Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz

Crows like shiny things, I like bubbles. I love seltzer, sparkling water, fizzy water - anything with a bubble and I'm sold! So as soon as I had my husband hooked on bubbles as well, the hunt was on for something to crave the bubble-mania. I knew that there were soda makers out there, but it wasn't until we were in a Sur La Tab-luh (Sur la Table) that we found what we were looking for.

I want to backtrack for a second though to mention how much money just two people can spend on beverages. We're not big beer or wine drinkers, neither of us drink juices unless we're sick, and the only milk I have in the house is heavy cream for cooking. Between the two of us though, we spent a small fortune on seltzer and soda. Even though we would buy flats at Costco, by week two they were finished and were back to buying bottles of the stuff for almost $2 each. Just one bottle of seltzer a day for one week would have been $14 - it really added up.

Fast forward to Valentines day. We had just done a movie and late lunch thing when we decided to walk a bit. Since I can't resist kitchen/dining stores, we walked into the Sur la Tab-luh in Soho and there was a lovely display by a company called Sodastream. It turns out to be an Israeli company that expanded across Europe then to Canada and finally blessed the US with its presence.

Warning: I'm about to gush over a machine... 

Not only has Sodastream saved us a lot of money better spent on chocolate, but its been fun too! They have a slue of wonderful soda flavors, some of which are better if not indecipherable from the major brands. Although we only buy the diet brands (all made with Splenda), the non-diet are all made with 100% sugar, no crazy chemicals or syrups. In fact, you would recognize every ingredient in their mixes - no thirty-letter words. They also have three essences, lemon, orange, and mixed berry wich are so delightful and just give you a hint of flavor to your bubbles.

They have a few different kinds of machines, the one we got is slim and hardly noticeable in our hole-in-the-wall kitchen.The canisters are easily replaceable at various locations or you can send away for them as well. Besides the money and fun of it all, it also happens to be environmentally friendly. The bottles are re-usable and the canisters are all recycled, the gas is just refilled. So we got a money saver, fun, yummy, and good for mama earth. I know I sound like a info-mercial, but sometimes you just gotta share!

So now that sharing is over, I think it's time for a sparkling pink grapefruit break...

June 21, 2010

Sesame Crusted Goodness

This was really good. I only mention that because it came from nothing. I needed to go grocery shopping and there was little left in the apartment. It's a good thing this came out so well otherwise we would have called for a pizza!

What really made this dish sing was the use of lemon. I used both the zest and the juice and it made this somehow lighter and fresher. So I urge you not to skimp on the lemon in this dish and if you've got limes instead, use them!

This was quick, yummy and easy - who could ask for anything more?

Sesame Crusted Pork Strips
1 pound thin, lean, pork cutlets, cut into 3 inch strips (this could easily be chicken or turkey, but pork is what I had)
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup black sesame seeds (optional. I would add another 1/4 of regular sesame seeds if you don't use black though. You can buy large bottles of sesame seeds at Asian markets if your grocer doesn't have them)
1 tbs Shichimi Togarashi (found in Asian markets or online, if you don't have or can't find, use 1 tsp of ground red chili pepper instead)
2 tbs kosher salt (1 tbs table salt)
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup+ vegetable oil

-Combine panko, sesame seeds, spice, salt, and zest in large shallow dish, mix well.
-Heat oil in large pot or sautee pan.
-Press strips of pork into panko mixture to coat well and place in hot oil. This will cook very quickly - no more than a minute per side unless the cutlet is thick. Watch it carefully, it can burn easily. Add more oil if you need to.
-Drain on paper towel and serve with dipping sauce (below)

Dipping Sauce
Juice of zested lemon
Splash of sesame oil
1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 scallion, sliced

-Combine all ingredients. Adjust to liking.

June 16, 2010

Educational Purposes

The eternally wise Mary Poppins gave us Supercalifragilistic.
Emeril Lagasse gave us Bam!
And I would like to add Educational Purposes to the mix...

In 1993 I was on vacation with my parents in Spain. It became very clear, very early on, that restraint and Spain were two things that simply could not exist together. Spain is a culinary bastion. Besides the riches of the earth and sea around them, the cultural influences from the Middle East, South America, and Africa to name a few, make the food in Spain particularly incredible. From Gambas A La Plancha (roasted shrimp), to various cured meats, to flan, the temptations were everywhere. Indeed the temptations were so great that it became increasingly difficult for us to settle on one version of a dish when look! They have another kind of paella over there that we haven't tried!

Enter: Educational Purposes.

It was my mother who created our lovely little mantra. We just had Jamon Serrano (an aged, cured ham) from the butcher down the block, but those guys over there had been making it for thirty years longer, hmmm, what to do? I mean really, could one beautifully marbled and cured slice of pig be better than another? There was only one way to find out. But what of guilt and excess? Guilt be gone, this had nothing to do with greed and everything to do with exploration and broadening horizons. (Well, maybe a little greed, but mostly lofty intentions.)

The mantra popped up again the first time my Father and I went to Philly. We had our cheesesteak at Pat's but we also had to have one at Gino's - after all it's one of the oldest food rivalries on the East Coast, we simply had to put in our two cents. I like a Philly cheesesteak as much as the next gal, but isn't one cheesesteak basically as good or bad as the next? Yes probably, but we did it anyway for Educational Purposes and if nothing else, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

I'd implore you to not abuse the magic of  Educational Purposes though. This is NOT permission to eat an entire pizza and breadsticks, and curly fries, and a pint of ice cream. Instead, this is permission to explore. Not sure which place has the better empanada? Educational Purposes, try one from both. Exploring Chinatown and see that two bakeries have the same pastry that you just discovered you like? Educational Purposes - check out both.

In fact, I give you permission to be as adventurous as you want! Go to that weird Balinese place down the street. Ask questions and try something new for Educational Purposes. You didn’t like that dish there? Don’t let that stop you - you cross the street and try it over there instead. Let the magic take over and make you that gutsy eater you always wanted to be. And remember, as always, you don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.

June 11, 2010

Soup and Sandwich

When its been a few days since I've cooked a meal, when work or life in general gets in the way, my hands get itchy. My right hand longs for my knife and my mind starts coming up with recipes. I've said it before, but people who love to cook, chefs included, have this indescribable draw to a kitchen. I'll try not to sound too overly dramatic and simply say: I needed to cook to keep myself happy.

White beans popped into my head last night for no reason whatsoever and I had it in my mind to make soup. So, that's what I did. This recipe was made on the fly and thank god it was good because just posting the sandwich would have made the title extremely confusing!

You see a lot of grilled chicken sandwiches everywhere - I hate them. They are always dry, tasteless, and wholly unsatisfying. Instead, I like making roasted chicken sandwiches. It's really simple... roast a chicken, tear off some of the meat stick between bread and voila! A tasty chicken sandwich that's moist and yummy.

Roasted Chicken Sandwich
1 whole chicken, cut in pieces, skin removed, room temperature (a little trick here. Chicken or really any protein you roast, should be room temperature before you stick it in the oven. If its still cold then it goes through a little steaming process - you loose flavor and color that way)
3 tbs mayo
1 tbs Dijon
3 tbs freshly chopped tarragon
1 tbs freshly chopped chive
A nice grainy bread, sliced and toasted
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Drizzle oil on the chicken, generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.
-Roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.
-While chicken is cooling, mix mayo, mustard, and fresh herbs together.
-Assemble sandwiches: spread mayo mixture on bread, add watercress and torn off pieces of chicken... eat.

White Bean Soup
3 cans of Cannellini beans (white beans)
2 large leeks, cleaned well, white and pale green parts sliced
2 whole shallots, chopped
3-4 tbs fresh thyme
1 tbs butter (or the fake stuff like Smart Balance)
1 tbs olive oil
1 heaping tsp garlic paste
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cans of low sodium vegetable broth (or about 3/4 of a 32oz box)
8oz. plain yogurt (any kind will do, you could even substitute marscapone or creme fraiche for something really rich)
Salt & pepper

-Sautee the leeks, shallots, garlic paste, and thyme in butter, oil, and wine until very soft.
-Drain the beans, but don't rinse them. Add to pot along with broth and lemon juice.
-Using an immersion blender or in batches, puree the soup until smooth.
-Add yogurt and whisk smooth while re-heating. Add salt and pepper to taste. Also at this point you might want to add more lemon or even more broth to your liking.
-Serve with finely sliced lemon peel.

June 7, 2010

Cherry-Apricot Hand Pies

You know its officially summer when one day there were no cherries to be seen and the next, they're everywhere you look.

When I got off the train at my station on Thursday night, there was a fruit stand overflowing with bags of dark red cherries... two dollars a bag! Well, that was all the incentive I needed to by some and figure out what to do with them later. When I saw perfect little apricots at another stand, my plan was solidified.

Hand pies are a wonderful alternative to whole pies and easier to make than turnovers because the pastry is just plain old pie dough. I made these look fancier than they had to be just because they were first hand pies of the season and therefore deserved a little more fanfare. But really, they don't need to be anything fancy at all. Fold a circle of dough over your filling and crimp the edges with a fork and your done!

Oh and do yourself a luxurious little favor. Yes, it only does one thing, and yes it seems like a waste which is why it took me this long to treat myself. That being said, get yourself a cherry/olive pitter. For the eight or nine bucks its going to cost you, not standing in a hot kitchen cutting and pitting two pounds of cherries for god knows how long is so worth it.

As with all my favorite recipes, this is completely adaptable - any fruit, any nut. This will work with every mix of fruit and nuts you can up with. 

Cherry-Apricot Hand Pies
1 -1 1/2 lbs  pitted cherries, roughly chopped
8-10 apricots, roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/2 cup sugar (plus more for dusting)
1 tbs vanilla extract
1 heaping tbs of soft butter (or the "fake" stuff like Smart Balance)
2 generous pinches of Kosher salt (if using table salt, 1 pinch)
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 9"-10" rounds of pate brise or pate sucree (can also be bought)
Egg wash

-Preheat oven to 375.
-Combine cherries, apricots, nuts, sugar, vanilla, butter, salt, and lemon in bowl. Taste, depending on the ripeness of the fruit, you might want to add a little more sugar. Just remember you will be adding sugar to the outside of the hand pie before baking too.
-Add cornstarch and mix well. The mixture should be coated and slightly thick. If you feel its too loose due to the juicy-ness of the fruit, I would suggest pouring out the extra juice. Be careful about using to much cornstarch or things will get gummy and taste like paste.
-Cut out squares or circles of pastry. Fill with fruit mixture, but don't over fill otherwise you wont get a good seal on the dough. Pinch or crimp the edges of the hand pie. Brush the outside of the pie with egg wash and sprinkle generously with sugar.
-Bake hand pies for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
-I added a dollop of Marscapone cheese to the top of them, but they don't really need a thing. Will make anywhere from 12-18 hand pies depending on size. These are great the next day too, just cover them with some tin foil, don't refrigerate.

June 3, 2010

Polenta, the Other White Meat

This actually has nothing to do with "the other white meat" a.k.a. Pork. But I thought it was clever nonetheless, (feel free to let me know it's not).

While pasta is wonderful, and it really is, I get bored with it and my husband goes through this odd sighing, eye rolling, and toddler tantrum thing when I mention the word. Enter Polenta. I know I've mentioned it before, but Polenta is wonderful! Think of it as we do: your pasta alternative.

I don't know about you, but there something about pasta that makes you want more and more of it. One bowl just doesn't cut it, and I shudder to think that I could actually eat a whole box myself. Besides that little confession making me seem terribly greedy, that's a whole ton of calories I'd rather save for chocolate. The simply joyous fact about Polenta is that its less calories and more filling than pasta and really, as far as I'm concerned, so much more interesting and tasty.

So here is my simple all purpose Polenta recipe. It's just as easy to make as pasta and only takes a little more time. But I think once you start making it, it'll replace your pasta as it has in our house. By the way, when you go to buy the stuff, don't bother with the fancy-schmansy boxes and bags, instead look for a bag or box of fine corn meal,  that's all Polenta is. I buy bags of Goya fine cornmeal for $.99 at the corner store.

I'm including the recipe for the meat sauce I made as well, but really feel free to use any sauce you would normally put on your pasta. Another quick word. This is for a firm Polenta, a Polenta you can cut and fry. A soft Polenta, something closer to a grit or even Risotto will need much more liquid and butter or oil.

1 cup fine corn meal (Polenta)
2 3/4 cups broth
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (you can use more too if you want)
Cooking spray or olive oil

-Boil broth
-Fill a glass or ceramic 8" square or 9x13" baking dish with water, then pour out leaving the interior wet. Also run a rubber spatula under the faucet, don't dry it.
-Once boiling, turn off the heat and slowly add the corn meal and cheese, mix or whisk until combined. Because this is thick, it might be hard to get completely smooth, don't stress too much about the lumps.
-Pour out the Polenta into the wet dish (the water will keep it from sticking to the dish, you can also use cooking spray or oil if you want, but water is free and has no calories), and with the wet spatula spread as evenly as possible.
-Let the mixture cool on rack for a few minutes, then stick in the fridge until completely cooled. About 20 minutes.
-Heat oil or cooking spray in a non-stick pan until very hot.
-Cut the Polenta, still in the dish, into slices or squares, whatever you want. Carefully remove from the dish and sear in the hot pan on both sides until a nice brown crust forms, about 3-5 minutes per side.
-Serve. This is also excellent cold or room temp.

Simple Meat Sauce
1 1/2 -2 lbs lean chopped meat (can be turkey, chicken, pork too)
1 large chopped onion
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1-2 pints Crimini or Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
1 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine (you can use broth instead if you like)
1-2 tbs of olive oil
Copious shakes of dried Italian herbs
Salt & pepper to taste

-Sautee onions and garlic in oil until soft and translucent
-Add mushrooms and meat
-When meat is cooked through, add tomatoes, tomato paste and wine - mix well. Partially cover, put on medium heat and let boil down for 15-20 minutes or so.
-When sauce is thicker, less liquid-y, add parsley, salt, pepper, and dried herbs to taste
-Serve over Polenta or pasta. This will make plenty of sauce - probably enough for tomorrow too.

June 1, 2010

Heard: @ Spice Market

It was an "only in New York" moment. The kind of moment that was so wonderful, I simply had to share.

My Mother and I spend this past Saturday together. We walked the Highline. It was my first time walking it and I have to say was a fabulous addition it is to NYC! You must go and visit if you can. We shopped a bit at Chelsea Market, a place that it is so wonderful its hard not to drop every penny you've earned there. We watched the new Sex in the City movie, which much to our surprise was not awful at all, it was entertaining although ultimately disappointing I'm afraid. We also had lunch at Spice Market:

Spice Market is inspired by the street food Jean-Georges Vongerichten enjoyed while traveling in Asia. 
Authentically uplifted versions of flavorful street foods are served family-style, 
with dishes arriving continuously throughout the meal for all to share. 

The place is stunning. The food is wonderful, although might I suggest NOT ordering the Crispy Salt & Pepper Skate - it sounded like a good idea but it too, like the movie, was disappointing. I will suggest the Char-Grilled Chicken in Kumquat & Lemongrass Dressing though, it was wonderful. The portions are made to be shared and the prices are so very do-able, especially with a friend. Highly recommended if your in the meat-packing area.

My mother and I had finished our meal and were waiting for the check. Two tables down from us was a older couple, obviously tourists, obviously not English speakers, and obviously highly confused by the menu. Their waiter spoke slowly, repeating things as necessary and tried everything he could to communicate. At one point my Mother, who speaks three languages fluently and probably enough of three others to get a point across with, even tried helping out, but to no avail. Finally the waiter asked what language they spoke... Portuguese. Haha! Of all the six languages Mum speaks or can fake - Portuguese is definitely not one of them.

Imagine our surprise then, when instead of shrugging and suffering along with the patrons, the waiter simply said "one moment." This was the point when Mum and I looked at each other and said, " not possible!" Ahh, but this is New York and anything is possible. A minute later our own waiter, who happened to be a very cute, all-American, buzz cut wearing, blue eyed, Nebraska looking farm boy complete with dimples, came to the couple's table.

Well, I'm sure you can figure the rest, but out of Mr. Nebraska's mouth came perfectly fluent Portuguese much to the couple's and our delight as well!

Gotta love this city!