July 10, 2011

A Quick Note...

If you used to receive my blog entries via email... in other words, if every time I posted a new article it came directly to your email inbox, you will have to RE-ENTER that information in the new blog. This is one thing we could not transfer. It is very easy, though. On the upper right hand part of www.duchessinbrooklyn.com is a box that says "Subscribe by Email." Simply put your email address in that box and click on subscribe. A small box will pop up asking you to type in a security word. Shortly after, you will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription by clicking on a link that will be provided for you in said email. Click on the link and you're done! As soon as I post a new entry on www.duchessinbrooklyn.com, you will get the article in your email inbox.

Also, if you have yet to check out the new blog, come and check out my new post No-Bake Fruit Tart.

July 4, 2011

A Fresh Start

Dearest Readers,

As an early birthday gift, my talented, patient, and wonderful husband gave me the gift of blogging. He has re-vamped, re-tooled, and re-invented my blog. I am happy to announce, that as of today, July 4th, (isn't that apt?), you can find me at www.duchessinbrooklyn.com. I will no longer be blogging via blogger.com. I sincerely hope you'll join me at my new home.

Just a couple of things: if you signed up with this blog via feedburner, in other words, if my posts come to you via email, you will have to re-enter your email information at the new site. It was a little detail that we couldn't transfer. It's the same exact set-up though. On the right-hand side of the blog, under "Favorite Posts" is the email prompt box. Simply enter your email, follow the directions, and wait for your confirmation email.

Also, only the first ten blog entries will be shown on the home page. If you want to see past blog entries, either use the "search box" or click on the word "blog," immediately to the right of the blog title on the home page.

Thank you again to every single reader. If it weren't for you, this wonderful change would not have been warranted.

Goodbye for now and see you soon at DuchessInBrooklyn.com!

June 27, 2011

Hot Time in the City...

It's hot. I don't like heat. I turn into a vampire come bright, sunny, hot days. I stick to the shade, I wear hats, and glop on the SPF 52. Living in an apartment in Brooklyn - an old apartment at that - means that only one room in your place is air conditioned and it ain't the kitchen. I become a master strategist when eighty degrees hit. I plan my meals around least amount of heat emitted. I would invite you to my closet of a kitchen, without a window, without AC, in the ghastly NY humidity, but something tells me you're going to take my word on this.

Sunday lunch was so lovely, though. It was well planned, well executed, and enjoyed in our air conditioned bedroom over TV trays. I will be making versions of this meal all summer long. It's easy, it's delicious, and most importantly, it requires me to be hovering over a hot stove for no longer than 15 minutes. Good deal, man... good deal.

Deconstructed Guacamole Salad
(My full guacamole recipe is much more involved, has more ingredients, takes longer, and while utterly worth it, is better for a crowd)
1 ripe, medium avocado, cubed
1/2 cup+ quartered grape tomatoes (about equal amount tomato to avocado)
1 small garlic clove, minced
Juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional)

-Combine everything in a non-metal, non reactive bowl. Adjust seasoning to liking. Mix carefully with a fork, you don't wan tot mash the avocados as you would in a guacamole, you want everything whole. Refrigerate to let flavors meld, then serve.

Dill Havarti Melts
Very thinly slice chicken cutlets
Corn starch
Roasted red peppers
Dill Havarti cheese
Dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil
Flat bread

-Salt and pepper the chicken, dredge in corn starch, pan fry in olive oil. As long as your cutlets are truly thin enough and your oil is hot enough, this will only take 3-4 minutes per side for a truly crispy cutlet. Set aside and go cool off in the AC.
-Preheat oven to 375 and place flat bread, (I like using Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats),on a silpat or parchment-lined baking tray. Let bread warm up in the oven to toast lightly, then remove.
-Spread a very thin layer of both Dijon and mayo. Cut cutlets to size, place on bread, and cover with red peppers that you have patted dry. (You could also use sun dried tomatoes or even fresh tomatoes if they were thin enough).
-Cover sandwich with very thin slices of Dill Havarti cheese, then place in oven for 6-8 minutes or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

June 20, 2011

Fried "Green" Tomatoes

You might notice, both in the title and the picture, that there's something off with my "green" tomatoes. Well, problem is, it's really hard to find them in NYC! I'm not whining, (well not too much, anyway), but its a shame. A green tomato is a wonderful thing. In hindsight, I suppose I could have used tomatillos, but that wasn't really the point. The point was keeping it real... really American, that is.

I won't bemoan the tomato issue any longer though because these came out spectacularly. Instead of green, I found the hardest, most unripe tomatoes I could find. You might think this means a tasteless fruit, but that's not entirely true. A green tomato has a slightly lemony tinge to it. Also, the hardness of a green tomato makes it easy to fry, of course. So although neither truly ripe, nor truly green, the inbetweeners came out lovely. Slightly sweeter than green tomatoes and slightly more acidic than a ripe one. It was a perfectly acceptable replacement.

Fried "Green" Tomatoes
Green tomatoes (or as close to green as you can find)
Coarse cornmeal
Cayenne Pepper
Oil, for frying

-In a heavy bottom pan, (preferably a cast iron pan), heat up oil. About 3-4 tbs worth at a time. You want to pan fry the tomatoes not deep fry them.
-Cut tomatoes into 1/4" thick slices.
-Combine cornmeal, salt, and cayenne. Be as generous as you want with the salt and as daring as you want with the cayenne.
-Dip tomato slices into buttermilk, then press into the cornmeal, shaking off excess.
-Pan fry in oil until deep golden brown, approximately 6-8 minutes per slice. Line your serving platter with brown paper bags and serve immediately. They're best right out of the oil, but they still taste damn good even room temperature.

June 14, 2011

My Favorite Tarte

This is for all of those Tarte Tatin lovers out there. If you're like me, you're no fan of making things off-season. In other words, since it's not December, your not munching on clementines right now. A few summers ago, I was in the country and came across the most divine peaches. I knew exactly what I wanted to do the moment I saw them. 

The most classic French Tarte Tatin is made by nestling apples in buttery caramel, covering them with pastry, and baking. My Tarte Peche does the same exact thing. Of course, I simplify things and avoid slicing the peaches. Two reasons for that... 1) it saves sanity and time, and 2) peaches are soft, they would disintegrate if you tried. Once or twice I've added some candied nuts or drizzled on some caramel, but other than some vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche, you don't need a thing.

Tarte Peche
4 ripe peaches (do your best to get them perfectly ripe, too soft and they fall apart, too hard and the flavor isn't there)
1/4 cup butter, (half stick, 4 tbs) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (1/3 cup if you like things a little sweeter)
2 tbs white sugar (again, 3 if you like things a little sweeter)
1 tbs vanilla extract (you could also use brandy or even a peach flavored liquor)
Egg wash (1 cracked egg, whisked with 1 tbs water)
Pate Sucree (nothing wrong with buying it at the supermarket instead of making it at home! Just make sure you get the kind you can unroll and not the one that already comes in a tin)

-Preheat oven to 375.
-Slice around each peach and carefully pull apart from the pit. Remove pit from peach half. If it's being stubborn, use a small spoon, melon baller, or even a grapefruit spoon to remove. Try to not remove too much flesh, though. 
-In an oven-proof, non-stick pan, melt the butter. Add brown sugar and vanilla, and heat until bubbling. Add the peach halves cut-side down into the sugar. Place in a circle, with one half in the center. Let cook in the pan until just the edges of the peach halves get a good, dark brown, caramelized color.
-Turn off the heat and place the dough directly on top of peaches. Using a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, tuck the extra dough around the edge of peaches. This does not need to be perfect. Brush the back of the dough with egg wash and sprinkle on the white sugar. This helps with the stability and structure of the tart, as well as taste.
-Place pan in oven for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the dough is cooked and golden brown.
-Immediately, while the sugar is still warm and hasn't hardened, flip the tart onto a serving platter. If an errant peach half sticks to the pan, simply pry it off and place it in its appropriate spot. Let cool, then cut and serve. 

May 24, 2011

Did You Hear?

I am happy, proud, and excited to say that I am the featured blog on Foodista.com today. Foodista is  "a collaborative project to build the world's largest, highest quality cooking encyclopedia. With your contributions, we can create a free resource that helps millions of people learn how to cook everything and anything." Besides being a wonderful foodie resource, Foodista is also an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) member and has been featured in Time Magazine and The New York Times to name a few. I am so honored and would like to welcome any new readers to my little corner of the foodie blog-verse. 
*On the main page, on the right had side, you will see my blog under "Featured blog of the day" with a happy, shiny gold star next to it ;-)

May 23, 2011

A Taste of His Childhood

My husband was born in the Philippines. He and and his family moved to the States, (Queens, New York to be exact), when he was four. He hasn't held on to many of the traditions or cultural influences from his childhood, except for a few well-loved flavors and dishes... isn't that always the way, though?

His favorite traditional dish, is Filipino BBQ. Every once in a while, as if pulled by a tether, he makes his way to his old neighborhood in Queens and buys enough BBQ to last a few days. This isn't BBQ as us Americans consider it. Instead, this is the global version of  "BBQ," otherwise known as: meat-on-stick. You can find meat-on-stick in every country on the planet, from the tiniest islands, to the most metropolitan cities. The Filipino version is garlicky, sweet, (thanks to 7-Up, it's ALWAYS 7-Up), and well charred. Usually made with a very fatty cut of pork, the meat marinates overnight, is skewered, then grilled over flames. As you can imagine, it's fabulous.

I wanted to try my hand at this at home. Of course, we don't have a patio, a backyard, or any outdoor space to grill on, but I do have a oven that broils! Also, I opted for a leaner meat option; some beautiful beef cutlets that I had picked up from the butcher the day before. I enjoyed it immensely, he missed the "real thing," but admitted this was a good way to tide him over in between runs to Queens. That was the best reaction I could hope for.

If at some point this summer we have access to a real grill, honey, I promised we'll try it again with the classic cut of pork... okay?

Filipino-Style BBQ (at home)
1.5 lbs lean, chicken, pork, or beef cutlets
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 cup 7-Up
1/3 cup tomato ketchup (if you have access to it, use banana ketchup)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 teaspoon white or brown sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
about 3/4 -1 head of garlic or approx. 3/4-1 cup garlic cloves

-Crush most of the garlic, but thickly slice about 5-6 cloves.
-Combine garlic, soy, 7-Up, ketchup, lemon juice, sugar, pepper, in a container with a tight fitting lid and whisk well.
-Add meat, close container, and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate overnight but no less than 5 hours.
-The following day, soak skewers in water for approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove the container from the fridge and slice the meat in approximately 1.5 - 2" strips. Weave the strips of meat onto the skewers and place on a tin foil-lined, broiler-safe tray.
-Broil the meat until cooked through and slightly charred. For beef, this will be about 8 minutes. Baste the meat half way through cooking with remaining marinating mixture. Make sure to add some of the sliced garlic to the tray as you broil to add to the serving platter. Serve immediately.

May 20, 2011

The Divine Miss "N"

My Grandmother was a tough woman to love. She made being a participant in her life complicated, often maddening, and difficult… I don’t think she would have had it any other way.

Nita, (no one was allowed to call her “Grandmother”), came from another world and another time. Hers was a life of exquisite couture clothing, glamour, and hats. As a testament to that fact, I have two hand-drawn and signed birthday cards, depicting my Grandmother in said exquisite clothing, from none other than Yves Saint Laurent himself. Glamour indeed.

When I was a child, she taught me things that little girls growing up in America in the 1980’s, simply didn't learn. Things like: how to set a table properly, how to write a letter, how to walk properly, (there were teacups and books involved), how to answer the phone, how to speak to one’s elders. In essence, she put me through finishing school. I didn’t get it at the time. And while I didn’t dislike it, I longed for a different kind of Grandmother back then. Where was my cookie-making, story book reading, cuddly Grandmother? All my other friends had one?

It wasn’t until I was in High School that I got it. No, she didn't bake or cuddle, but Nita taught me things that I keep with me to this day. I look around me and see slouched shoulders and shudder. Anytime a cup of hot water arrives with the tea bag on the side, I send it back. Hot water goes over tea, not the other way around. I know where the oyster fork goes, how many people can say that?

Regal is a state of mind. I learned that from Nita. There wasn’t a royal bone in her body but you wouldn’t have known. She held herself like a queen. She ruled her kingdom with a fierce adherence to manners, decorum, and political prowess. Her court was visited by the powerful, beautiful, and popular. With a cold vodka in one hand, a monogrammed handkerchief in the other, no one could deny that she was, in fact, more divine than the Queen Mum could ever hope to be.

Today is Nita’s birthday. She left us for the big dinner party in the sky four years ago at the age of 100. Three beautiful, stylish, and talented women - my mother, auntie “rabbit,” and auntie “Mame” - will be toasting Nita with vodka and caviar tonight; glamour indeed. Sip gracefully ladies, she’ll be watching.

Happy Birthday Nita, wherever you may be, you taught me to be a Duchess and I’ll always love you for that. 

May 19, 2011

Did You Say Football-Sized Cacao Beans?

Here is the original Time article
Yes, yes I did.

I would be a very bad foodie indeed if I didn't share this exciting bit of news. An ancient cacao bean, thought to be extinct, was recently found in the wilds of Ecuador by a group of adventurous Americans. This bean is "the most genetically pure expression of cacao ever found." Apparently, when roasted, this bean gives the least bitter, yet most chocolaty flavor possible.

It's going to be incredibly expensive, I'm sure. There wont be any brownies or chocolate chip cookies, made with the stuff... actually scratch that. I have every confidence that the king of chocolate, Jacques Torres, will be offering ancient chocolate ship cookies for $10 a pop.

And yes, I'm just enough of a chocoholic to give in and get a bag.

I don't know when it will hit our shores, or in what form it will arrive, but here's hoping that Jacques will leave the masses enough to try it for themselves.

May 10, 2011

Holy Cream, Batman!

My friend, Dara, brought back Pretzel Cream Cheese ice cream one day from lunch weeks ago. It was heavenly; inspired, even. Said ice cream came from a hole in the wall shop on Ninth Avenue and 53rd street, (no website, sorry), close to our offices. Since that fated day, we've been promising to go back together. It's more than just homemade artisan ice cream, you see. Holey Cream offers something so insane, so over-the-top, so damned genius... the Donut Ice Cream Sandwich. Today was the day we went. 

*The following should be illegal.

The interior wall with instructions: 

Three of us chose two different unholy concoctions. Chocolate donut, with Guatemalan Truffle ice cream (made from Guatemalan coffee with chocolate truffles), Black and White Hotel ice cream (made with rum, dark chocolate and white chocolate bits), Dark Cookie Cream (dark chocolate ice cream with cookies), and  an array of neon sprinkles. 

Please enjoy the food porn:

The second donut was vanilla, with some more traditional ice creams. 
We topped it with Oreos, sprinkles, and mint chips.

I don't think I need to bore you with how delicious it all was. The pictures speak for themselves, no?
I will say this, Ambrosia has a run for it's heavenly money. 

The aftermath:

May 6, 2011

Craving Conquered!

I was absolutely craving Linguine alla Vongole (linguine with clams) last night. I don't know why, but sometime at around 3 P.M. the image of lovely clams, nestled in a pile of lovely pasta, covered in copious amounts of wine and garlic wouldn't stop nagging me. In fact, at 3:30 P.M., a colleague and I had a half hour long conversation about how most recipes skimp on the garlic and wine. We followed up that conversation with delightful stories of our local fish mongers... I love fellow foodies wherever they may be hiding.

Thankfully, the craving was easily fixed. In fact, besides the clams, I had everything at home at the ready. I'm guessing you might, too. Along with the pasta, we had a lovely fresh Caprese salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper), and loaf of Italian bread (how else were you planning on soaking up all that amazing left over garlicky wine sauce?) It was the perfect warm weather meal and the next time we have people over, it's what I'll be making. All I'll need is some Gelato and fresh berries for dessert.

Feel free, as always, to make this recipe your own. More garlic? Sure. More wine? Yup. Crushed red pepper flakes? Go for it.

Linguine alla Vongole
1 lb linguine
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Clams (2 dozen large, or 2 lbs smaller varieties like Manila, or even cockles)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup clam juice
1 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tbs butter (or the "fake" stuff, like Smart Balance)
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour (for clams only)

-Fill a large bowl with 1/2 cup flour and very cold water. Let the clams soak in the bowl for 15-30 minutes. They will suck in the flour and spit out any grit or sand. This works with mussels, too.
-Meanwhile, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Slice the garlic and chop the parsley, set aside. Heat oil in heavy bottom pot, like dutch oven, add garlic and sautee until cooked through but not browned. Add wine, clam juice, and half the parsley; cook until boiling.
-Rinse and scrub the clam shells very, very well to rid them of any flour, grit, and sand (there is nothing worse then grit in your pasta). While pasta is cooking, place clams in pot and cover, shaking the covered pot gently every once in a while to help open clams. Cook the pasta about one minute less than you normally would and drain.
-Once clams have opened, place pasta in the sauce pot, add the butter, salt and pepper to your liking, and cook for about one minute or so, stirring everything together. Serve immediately. Remember to have that bread handy to soak up the left over sauce!

April 19, 2011

Here Fishy, Fishy...

We rarely eat fish. It's not because we don't like it, because we do, we love it. Mostly its because we both work full time and by the time we get home, the fish mongers in our neighborhood are closed. So this past weekend, we took a chance and bought a bag of frozen Cod fillets. The chance being that after having been defrosted, the texture would be miserable. But much to my delight, since we were dealing with a firm white fish, it turned out beautifully.

So here is a classic. An incredibly quick, incredibly simple, and truly delicious recipe that you can apply to almost any seafood you like!

Q.S.D. Cod (quick, simple, delicious)
4 4-6 oz cod fillets (fresh or frozen, if frozen thawed as per package directions)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 medium Roma tomatoes, finely chopped
3/4 cup flat leaf / Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 heaping tbs capers (either brined or packed in salt, but well rinsed)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white white
2 tbs butter (or the fake stuff I use, Smart Balance or the like)
Salt & pepper

-Saute the shallots in butter until translucent in large non-stick skillet
-Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup of parsley, and capers. Saute for a minute or three or minutes until tomatoes soften
-Add wine and lemon juice, bring to boil
-Salt and pepper the fillets on both sides, then place in skillet. Cover skillet, bring down heat, and let cook for 4-6 minutes depending on thickness of fillets, until mostly opaque. Flip fillets and cook for another 4-6 minutes until completely opaque, set aside on serving dish (remember, they will continue to cook when you take them out of the pan. So err on the side of just slightly under done, instead of slightly over done)
-Let liquid boil away for 3-4 minutes, then spoon over fish. Sprinkle with remaining chopped parsley and serve.

April 13, 2011

Call Me Chicken.

For years, I had this irrational fear of roasting a chicken. Ridiculous right? The problem is, I've always seemed to muck it up in the past. Either it's pale and anemic, burnt, or something in-between. It was incredibly embarrassing. Anyone can roast a chicken right? No, not really. I'm admitting this to you now, because the spell has finally been broken... and I know why. There's no secret ingredient I used, no amazing new process I discovered. Instead, for the first time, I didn't listen to anyone else's advice and I sure as hell didn't read a recipe.

Every roast chicken recipe I've tried has turned out disastrously for me. I'm always so terribly afraid of over cooking the thing, that the very second the meat is up to temperature, I pull it out, color be damned. Color equals flavor in a roast chicken - so not only is something pale not appetizing to the eyes, it's unappetizing to the palate, too.

So, I decided it was time to face the chicken. No recipes, no suggestions. I am incredibly happy to say it came out beautifully and was delicious. I feel almost silly posting the recipe since I've just gone on and on about not following one, but I'm going to post it with this little stipulation. Please feel free to never use this recipe, ever; and please feel free to make this recipe your own. When roast chicken is concerned, besides the correct temperatures for the meat, there are no rules.

Roast Chicken
1 4-5 lb Kosher chicken
1 small onion, quartered
1 large lemon, quartered
3 garlic cloves, split
Kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
dried thyme

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Make sure chicken is at room temperature. Thoroughly wash the skin and cavity, pat dry. Spray the bottom of an oven-safe pan with a little cooking spray, then place chicken in pan, un-trussed. (I used my all-clad saute pan). The only real tip here is, if you use a vessel that too big, the veggies will definitely burn.
-Because the chicken is Kosher, you don't need much salt, so salt the chicken sparingly. Pepper and thyme the chicken well, though. Scatter the onion, lemon, and garlic around the chicken in the pan.
-Cook for approximately an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. Dark meat should read 175, white meat 160-165.
-Turn off oven and open oven door for about 15-20 minutes, letting the chicken rest. Remove the pan and set chicken aside on craving board.
-Strain the onions, garlic, and lemon through a fine sieve over the pan, pressing lightly with a spoon to release liquid. Using a little chicken stock or white white, put the pan over high heat, and cook the au jus until boiling and thickened, scraping up any stuck bits with a wooden spoon.
-Cut up chicken and serve along side the warm au jus. Enjoy.

March 30, 2011

Age-ing is Sage-ing

The simplicity and elegance of Japanese food can be deceiving. As any woman worth her salt can attest, putting on make-up that comes across as, "natural," is more difficult than slapping on some blue eye shadow. The same can be said of seemingly simple foods. As I grow as a foodie and cook, I'm pushing myself to prefect "the natural look." It's all well and good to make a divine Coq Au Vin when you have things like bacon and red wine to make it delicious, but what about one, single, lonely shrimp? How do you strip down your foodie instincts to enhance that solitary bit o' protein? Enhance being the critical word here. Because in fact, that's the key to a cuisine like Japan's... enhancing.

It starts with the best, freshest ingredients. That doesn't mean the most expensive, either. The monetary difference between a frozen and fresh chicken breast is most likely pennies, but the difference in texture and sometimes even flavor, can be dramatic.

It's one thing to wax poetic about food philosophies and another thing entirely to cook them, however. So, in my own, informed way, I'm navigating the calm, simple culinary waters. Below is my own take on two very classic Japanese dishes that are beautiful and easy to make at home. I urge you, as always, to make your own additions and versions.

Tofu Agedashi, Duchess-Style
Firm Tofu (not extra firm or regular, but firm)
Diakon Radish
Asian Pear (sometimes Asian Apple)
Enoki Mushroom (optional, for garnish)
Corn starch
Oil, for frying
Lime Zest

-The most important step is to drain and dry the tofu well. Wrap up the tofu block in either paper towel or a dish towel, then weigh it down making sure its not so heavy as to break the tofu block. Repeat this as many times as necessary to wick-away all the moisture.
-While the tofu is being pressed, using a mandolin, slice the Daikon. Core the pear and also using the mandolin, slice it. Mix together, cover with plastic wrap to retain the moisture, and set aside (you can refrigerate if you like, too). Slice scallion in thin strips or coins and set aside.
-Put about two or three inches worth of oil in a pot and heat. Slice the tofu into approximately two inch cubes. Cover in corn starch and shake off excess, then fry. This is a quick fry, no more than three minutes. The point isn't to color the tofu, but to crisp the outside.
-Compile your bowl. Place a nice pile of Daikon and pear on the bottom, then pour a tablespoon or so of Ponzu over it. Place the tofu on top, then garnish with scallion and Enoki. Zest lime directly over the entire dish. Serve.

Soba Noodle Soup, Duchess-Style
Soba noodles
Vegetable or Chicken Broth
Soy Sauce
Miso Paste (red or white. I prefer red - it has a more intense flavor)
Shrimp*, peeled and de-veined
Chicken, sliced in thin strips
Shitake mushrooms, sliced
Scallion, sliced

-Boil Soba noodles according to package. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water. Set aside.
-Dissolve two parts Miso paste to one part water in pan. Sautee the chicken and shrimp in concentrated slurry, then set aside.
-Bring the stock to boil with mushrooms and 3/4 scallions. Add soy to your liking.
-Compose soup in serving bowl with noodles, broth (containing the mushrooms and scallions), chicken, and shrimp. Garnish with a little raw scallion and serve. This can be done with any protein you like.

*Just a quick word about shrimp. Unless you live someplace where shrimp is farmed or fished daily, buy frozen. Most of the shrimp you find in fish stores or grocery stores was frozen anyway. Fresh shrimp is caught and frozen immediately, usually on the actual boats they were fished from. It's as fresh as you'll get away from the shore. 

March 17, 2011

Garlic & Soup-a-Palooza

Over the years, soups are something I've discovered that I love to make, am good at making, and enjoy immensely. That being said, an excellent soup can take time, much more time than I usually have when I get home at night. Sure I could freeze homemade chicken and beef stock to have at all times, but that doesn't happen often. When you don't have the option of homemade, there is no shame in store-bought stocks especially at 7 P.M. on a work / school night. (By the way, for my money, Kitchen Basics is the best brand on the market).

This post isn't just about soup though, it's also about garlic butter... homemade garlic butter to be exact. Having a tub of garlic butter waiting and ready in the fridge, is a blessing. Whereas, you can find decent chicken stock at a store, you can't really find garlic butter at all. What a shame, because it's perfect for bread, a quick saute of any seafood, to let melt over a steak, for basting poultry, and for a million other little tasks. And the key to the quickest, most satisfyingly garlicky butter? Garlic paste. I've touted the joys of garlic paste before and I won't quit. It's a life saver. 

So, below are two nights of incredibly easy, classic soups with a twist, and of course... garlic butter.

Garlic Butter
1 cup unsalted softened butter (or substitute, I use Smart Balance)
3 tbs garlic paste
1 heaping tsp fresh pepper
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

-Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix very well. Taste. Adjust pepper or garlic paste to your liking. You might have to add salt, not all garlic pastes are equally salty.
-Store in air-tight container and put in fridge. Will last as long as any other butter would. 

Garlic bread made with said butter, served alongside soups:

Tortellini and White Bean Soup
Tortellini of your choosing (about 1 cup dry, 2/3 cup fresh)
1 15.5 oz can of Cannellini beans, drained but not washed
1 cup raw greens of your choosing (I used spinach, you can use kale, escarole, etc)
32 oz. Chicken Stock
Grated Parmesan cheese

-Boil stock, add tortellini. 
-When tortellini is a minute from being finished, add greens and beans. Let cook until everything is hot and wilted.
-Serve soup with a heavy sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and garlic bread. 

Mushroom, Barley, and Sausage Soup
3/4 lbs cleaned mushrooms, sliced (I use baby bella because they have more bite, but feel free to use white button mushrooms, too)
1 tbs garlic butter
3/4 cup pearl barley
1/2 - 3/4 lbs sausage of your choosing, cut into 1/2" pieces, (I used lamb sausage from our local butcher, but use what ever you like. I've even used kielbasa in the past.)
1/2 - 3/4 cup chopped fresh dill (about one large bunch)
35 oz beef stock (slightly more than a box or large can. The barley will soak in some broth)
Sour Cream

-Saute the mushrooms in the butter until color changes and slightly softened (about 3 minutes). Add sausage, saute with mushrooms for a minute. Add broth, bring to boil.
-Add pearl barley and let boil until cooked, about 15 minutes. The pearl barley will never be fully soft and instead, will have the texture of al dente pasta.
-Add dill before taking off the heat. Serve with sour cream and garlic bread.

March 9, 2011

Stuffed Peppers

Have you seen these baby bell peppers all over the place recently? I have. Brightly colored, about 3-4 inches long, they're happy, cute, and as I found out, oh so sweet! I'd never cooked with them before and frankly, bell peppers of any size aren't something I cook with at all. But, these little gems were so appealing in their size and color, that I grabbed some on impulse, stuffed them, and threw them in the oven. The results were so good, it's a pity that I hadn't bought more and made twice as many!

This will be perfect come spring and summer, (assuming I can still find the little buggers), as an easy hors de oeuvre or appetizer. Not only are they yummy, but even cooked, they are incredibly tempting to the eye. We eat with our eyes too, remember. As my husband pointed out, this would also be wonderful if you had access to a grill and could char the peppers for a minute before stuffing and baking.

This recipe will make 8-12 peppers depending on their size.

Ricotta-Stuffed Baby Peppers
3/4 cup ricotta (whole or part skim, doesn't matter)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Zest of one small-medium lemon
1/2 cup fresh, chopped chives
Salt & Pepper to taste
8-12 baby bell peppers
Olive oil or cooking spray

-Preheat oven to 400. Cut the stems off of the peppers and using a small spoon, scrape out all seeds and pith, (the white stuff on the pepper ribs).
-In a bowl, mix Parmesan, ricotta, zest, and chives very well. Taste before seasoning with salt and pepper.
-Spray a baking dish with cooking spray or wipe down with olive oil. Stuff the peppers with the ricotta mixture making sure to really get into every curve and crevice. Using the handle of the spoon will help with this, especially with the smaller peppers.
-Place stuffed peppers onto the baking dish and roll them around to get a thin layer of oil on the surface. The filling will ooze a bit when you bake, so be sure to give them room.
-Bake for approximately 20 minutes until you can smell the peppers and the flesh is tender.

March 2, 2011

Junky but Fabulous, a.k.a.: JBF

Not every dish needs to be sophisticated, interesting, elevated, or unique. Not every dish needs fancy ingredients, (call me guilty, dulce-de-leche frosting). Sometimes you want something junky but fabulous and you know what? Craving JBF is okay. Let's give each other permission, as foodies, to enjoy chocolate covered potato chips and corn dogs without guilt!

Amongst other things, JBF is usually cheap, plentiful, easy to make, and a wild crowd pleaser; I'm talking to you American-style tacos and pigs-in-a-blanket. Here's what I suggest when the JBF craving hits, though... make it yourself. At home, you know exactly what's going into the food, and you know exactly how deep into the calorie hole you're falling. Not entirely comforting I know, but it's better than contemplating the contents of "secret sauce."

So, with that in mind, I give you:

Honey-BBQ Popcorn Chicken
1 lb chicken tenders or any boneless, skinless chicken (cut into popcorn-sized pieces)
3 cups+ white or whole wheat flour
2 cups+ whole wheat bread crumbs (they add a nice flavor, but if you have plain white, no worries)
1/2 cup sesame seeds (optional)
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup BBQ sauce
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup ketchup
2 tbs hot sauce
2 tbs Worcestershire
Vegetable Oil (for frying)
Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing (for dipping)

-Heat oil. Combine 2 cups flour, 2 cups bread crumbs, and sesame seeds, with salt and pepper in one bowl. Whisk together buttermilk and eggs in one bowl. In plastic bag, add 1 cup flour and a generous amount of salt and pepper. 
-Place chicken pieces in plastic bag with flour and coat well. In batches, place chicken in buttermilk, then transfer to crumb mixture and coat well, before frying. You might have to replenish the crumb and flour bowl sometime in the process. Any excess dripping from the buttermilk will make the crumbs and flour too moist to coat properly. 
-The chicken will fry very quickly, no more than 4 minutes until golden and cooked through. Set aside in a paper towel lined bowl, until all the chicken is fried.
-In a small pot, heat BBQ sauce, honey, ketchup, hot sauce, and Worcestershire. Mix well and taste. Adjust to your liking; sweeter, tangier, or spicier. Bring to boil. Immediately, toss the sauce with the chicken and serve with either blue cheese or ranch dressing.

February 23, 2011

Birthday Cake

I've known D since grade school, fourth grade in fact. We've been through four or five different stages of awkward together... really, really, awkward. Together we've flown past our awkward teens, through our unsure 20's, and now are happily enjoying the start of our 30's with new found comfort in ourselves. There have been times that we haven't spoken out of annoyance, distance, or just being busy. There have been times when we needed each other and no one else would do.

Knowing D though, means knowing her specific likes and dislikes when it comes to birthday cakes. She's... picky, (and she's going to get me back for calling her that, I assure you!). She likes her cake moist, but not too moist. She doesn't like dark chocolate, only milk. Raspberries make her gag, but strawberries make her happy. So, I made her a moist, but not too moist yellow cake, with strawberries, not raspberries, in a chocolate, dulce de leche frosting. The frosting was risky... it's made with semi-sweet chocolate not milk chocolate. But thankfully, the frosting is too impossibly delicious not to love, so she did.

Yellow Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
3/4 cup Triple Sec (or other fruity liquor)
-Let Strawberries it in Triple Sec until ready to use.

-Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 10" circular cake pan or a 13x9 sheet pan. Dust the pan with flour and tap out excess.
-Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
-Beat butter with standing (with paddle attachment) or hand held mixer until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well incorporated, occasionally scraping down the sides of bowl.
-Mix together buttermilk and vanilla. Slowly add the sifted flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Do not over-beat.
-Drain Strawberries (save liquor) and mix into batter with a spatula - do not over mix.
-Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and cool completely on wire rack. 
-With a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake using the Triple Sec the strawberries soaked in. Do this twice, letting the liquid soak in between brushes. Don't brush more than twice though or things can get soggy.

Chocolate Dulce De Leche Frosting

can dulce de leche (13 - 14 ounces)
5 ounces semi-sweet or darker chocolate
1/2 stick unsalted butter

-Chop chocolate into small pieces. If butter is isn't soft, cut into thin slices.
-In double boiler, melt chocolate, butter, and dulce de leche, mixing frequently with wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.
-Continue to double boil until everything is melted and well incorporated.
-Let cool for a few minutes before frosting the top of the cake.
-Let the frosting cool and set-up before serving. 

This isn't a traditional frosting, it's a little thick and sticky, but so worth it!

February 14, 2011

An Inaugural Lunch

My parents just finished a massive remodel of their kitchen. It's really stunning. I picked out all the appliances because they asked me to and I couldn't wait to get my hands on that new stove-top and counters. So when my Mother asked me to come over to help her unpack the kitchen and get it set up, I gladly agreed as long as I could make lunch.

I adapted this recipe from one that I found in my old recipe box. It was a long forgotten but much loved dish. Unfortunately, I never wrote down where I found it or who the recipe belongs to, so I can't thank them properly. That being said, its a wonderfully easy and elegant recipe that's pretty much fool-proof. It's perfect for a crowd and very easily doubled or tripled (I doubled it). And although the leftovers are at my parents place, we have been assured, that like so many other great recipes, this is excellent the next day, too.

Apricot Chicken
1 whole chicken, skin on, cut in 8 pieces
3/4 lb dried apricots
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 red wine vinegar
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 small / medium shallot, sliced
1 medium / large yellow or Spanish onion, sliced
1 tbs fresh thyme
1 tbs olive oil
Salt & pepper

-Place apricots, wine, and vinegar in a bowl, set aside.
-Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper, then brown in heavy bottom pot in olive oil in batches. As pieces brown, set aside on platter.
-De-glaze the pot with chicken stock (add stock to pot and scrape up all the brown bits). Add onions and shallots, let cook until tender - about 2-3 minutes.
-Add thyme. Put chicken back in pot. Pour over the apricots with the wine and vinegar, bring to boil, then lower heat. Let simmer all together until chicken is cooked, about 20 minutes.
-Remove chicken, place on serving platter. Boil apricots and liquid until reduced to a sauce (the sugar from the apricots will thicken the sauce slightly). Pour sauce over chicken and serve with some crusty bread.

PS -  the colors in the picture aren't off - the chicken and onions will take on a pink hue due to the wine.

February 8, 2011

A Gift to Myself

My Christmas gift to myself was a recipe box - a custom recipe box. My old one was metal and had rusted at the bottom so badly, it stained any surface it was on. I picked up my new one from the post office this past Saturday and tore it open like a kid. I know, I know, it's 2011. It's the age of iPad's and electric cars and why the hell do I need a recipe box? I'm fully aware that I could scan all my recipes into any number of devices I use day-to-day and with the push of a button summon my top secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. But besides the practical issues that include accidental batter dipped smart phones and oil-burned e-readers, there's something to be said about a recipe on 4x6 index card.

A friend called me a Grandmother when I enthusiastically showed her pictures of my new box. Personally, I couldn't think of a better compliment. I don't care how many doo-dads, canisters of compressed air, and precision cooking thermometers you have; nothing was better than your grandmother's mushroom barley soup. I can almost guarantee that soup recipe was written on a 4x6 index card. The corners of that card were soft and worn, probably bent, too. There were thirteen different colored stains on it and the perfect script of your grandmother's hand had all but faded to a mere shadow. 

Well here is my recipe box, just begging to be filled with my old stained recipe cards and new favorites yet to come. I found the woman who lovingly made this box on Etsy. Her store is called Gifts and Talents and she's a sweetheart. I asked for Wayne Thiebaud and cherries and that's exactly what she gave me. The first recipe to grace the box? My Godmother's Chutney Recipe... there are only three people in the world who have that recipe, I'm one of them. Now doesn't something that precious deserve a gilded home? I think so, too. 

February 4, 2011

Quality Meats

I want to start this post off with a couple of notes and admissions...

The pictures are not fabulous, I know this. But to be fair, it was my first time taking pictures in a restaurant and oh man its hard! You don't want to annoying to your fellow diners, you don't want to annoy the establishment, you have to deal with the lighting (or more to the point, lack thereof), you have to deal with a possibly wobbly table (which we had), and you have to deal with lack of angles since you can't just pop up and moves everything around until its perfect.

I'm not a huge fan of restaurant reviews in blogs. If I don't live in your city or town and have no plans to be there shortly, it just sort of feels like some kind of foodie torture you know? Oh really, it was hands down the best risotto you have ever had in your life? That's awesome except you're in Chicago and I'm in Brooklyn! Not fair.

Since I had absolutely no hand in prepping or even buying the items for the meal, I feel sort of like I'm cheating here. I think I'll get over this one though.

It's restaurant "week" in NYC right now. I use the term "week" lightly since in fact its more like month, but that's neither here nor there. What is important is that some of the best eateries in all of New York are offering pre-fixe menus for lunch at $24.07 and dinner at $35.00. Thanks to years past I've been able to eat at places that would have otherwise cost me a few month's salary.

I went to Quality Meats, a place in midtown near my office, with a couple of ladies from my office. We chose Quality partially because the menu looked wonderful, but also partially because all of our bosses take their clients to lunch there and we wanted to know what all the fuss was about. The appeal was almost immediate... there is no fuss. That's whats so damn nice about it. No silly frilly decor, nothing pretentious, no techno or oddly Japanese-like or is it Indian, music playing. Nope, just a place with exposed brick, comfy wooded chairs, and some wonderful lighting, which sadly didn't photograph well.

Our App choices were a Cesar salad, a butternut squash soup with gingerbread croutons (great idea that, I'll have to borrow it), and steak tartar. Never one to pass up raw meat and eggs, I chose the tartar and I'm so glad I did. It was probably the tastiest steak tartar I've ever had and I'm sorry to my fellow Chicago foodies who won't be having it tonight.

For main the options were: grilled chicken salad (boring), skirt steak with brandied cherries (which one of us had, it was nice if not a little too sweet), and  baby back ribs. Now I had originally thought about the steak, but my waitress convinced me otherwise - she was right. These ribs were fantastic! They had a spicy Thai rub on them and were doused in honey. They were sticky, tender, sweet, and spicy. So damn good. I just might have to go back for those someday.

Desserts were cute. They make their own ice creams over there and I chose "Coffee & Donuts" not entirely sure what I would be getting. It happened to be coffee ice cream, with chocolate donut pieces, and chocolate sprinkles... a mini chocolate donut on top. I really don't have to tell you that it was clever and charming and delicious, but I will. What a fun idea and there is nothing as yummy as homemade ice cream. All in all, it was a very happy tummy day.

January 25, 2011

Ricotta-Smashed Potatoes

I had an aha food moment last night. Sometimes those aha moments are utter failures, sometimes they work out beautifully. Last night's aha food moment was lovely and easy and elegant and I urge you try it!

Ricotta-Smashed Potatoes
8-10 large Yukon Gold potatoes, washed, skins on
3/4 cup Ricotta (I used part skim, but whole would work too)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4-5 large garlic cloves, quartered
1 large lemon, in wedges
1 tbs whole peppercorns
3 dry bay leaves

-Bring salted water with lemon, peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic, to boil.
-Cut potatoes into 4-6 large chunks.
-Boil potatoes until very soft, drain.
-Discard the lemon, bay leaves, and as many peppercorn as you can.
-Add potatoes, garlic, Parmesan, and ricotta to serving bowl and "smash" until combined and potatoes are slightly broken up but not smooth or completely "mashed." You can used a potato masher for this, but  be careful to not over-do it. I used a beater attachment from a handheld mixer for the job.
-Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

January 20, 2011

Chili for a Friend

A friend of ours was having a rotten couple of days. Of course, my first instinct was to feed her. So I did. It's been cold, wet, and generally miserable weather-wise in New York - it's the kind of weather that begs for woolen socks, cups of tea, and something hearty. Nothing is heartier, easier, or more economical than Chili.

The great part about Chili is that its really a no recipe kind of dish, (that being said, there are some serious Chili connoisseurs who have very strict recipes and methods, I'm not one of them). Take ground meat (turkey, beef or some combination of the two), some tomato paste, yellow onions, garlic, salt & pepper; cook it in a big old pot with some kidney beans, canned crushed tomatoes, and a few healthy dashes of red wine vinegar. Let it all cook and bubble, then serve. If you can wait, chili is always better the next day though.

Because of it's simplicity, Chili is a great condiment dish. I serve my Chili with shredded cheddar cheese, sliced avocados, sour cream, Fritos or Dipsy Doodles, finely chopped white onions, and hot sauce. Let your guests customize their own bowl.

Along with a big ol' pot of chili, I made some equally easy sides. Maple roasted parsnips and carrots, and fried biscuits (don't judge until you've tried them!).

Maple Roasted Parsnips & Carrots
2 bunch carrots, washed and trimmed
6-8 parsnips, washed, and quartered
Vegetable oil (or other tasteless oil)
Real maple syrup
Salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Place veggies in roasting pan, coat lightly with oil, then salt and pepper. Drizzle the maple syrup on, so that the veggies are well coated but not sitting in a puddle (the maple syrup will burn in the oven, try to be sure that you haven't used it in excess).
-Roast for about 45 minutes give or take depending on size of veg. You want the veggies cooked through and caramelized.

Fried Biscuits
1 package refrigerated biscuits (regular size, if you buy a "home-style" biscuit, which are much larger, make sure to cut them in half before frying, otherwise the outside will cook and the interior will remain gooey)
Oil for frying
Butter & Honey

-Fry the biscuits until they puff up and are a deep golden brown. Approx 2 minutes per side.
-Drain on paper towel and serve immediately with butter and honey.

You know you want them....

January 11, 2011

Screening Party

Sometimes you just want to get together with friends, watch some movies, and have a few drinks. You need food for these screenings. Food is essential. It always is of course, but whats the use of vegging out in front of the TV without sweet libations and sustenance? There is no use. So this was the menu:

Roasted Pork Sandwiches
Roasted Red Pepper and Ricotta Sandwiches
Cheese Straws
Crudités and Dip (a store-bought dill veggie dip, love the stuff. It's made by Marizetti)
Cajun-Spiced Popcorn (add Cajun spice mix to melted butter then toss with popcorn)
Chocolates (of various kinds)

Easy, yummy and very much appreciated by all!

Roasted Pork Sandwiches
To save yourself some time and work, roast the pork loin and the tomatoes one to two days ahead of time.

1 Pork Loin
2-3 Tbs Dijon
6-8 garlic cloves, sliced thickly
salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut slits all across the surface of the loin. Stuff garlic slices in slits. Salt and pepper the loin well, then cover in the 2-3 tbs Dijon. You want a thin layer of mustard over the whole loin.
-Roast for approx 35-45 minutes or until the meat registers 150-155 degrees. Let the meat rest, slice thinly before assembling sandwiches.

10-12 Roma (Plum) tomatoes, sliced in half
Dried mixed Italian herbs
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
-Arrange cut side up in a roasting pan, sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and spices.
-Pour on olive oil until well coated. Cook for 3 hours or until tomatoes have flattened out and the bottom of each half (the skin side) had charred.

Fresh parsley
2 Ciabatta loafs (just a personal preference. Italian bread or sourdough, or anything you like works, too)

-Assemble sandwiches. Spread a layer of Mascarpone on each side of bread, half of the tomatoes (slightly smashed into the bread), thin slices of pork, and top off with parsley. Cut into slices with the aid of toothpicks. Just remember to let people know the toothpicks are there!

Roasted Red Pepper and Ricotta Sandwiches
3/4 lb of roasted red peppers (you can make them yourself, or buy them. I bought them since we have an Italian Deli near by that makes some stellar roasted red peppers)
Fresh ricotta cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil
2 Ciabatta loafs
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

-Spread the ricotta on both sides of bread, sprinkle a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, and fresh cracked pepper on top. Finish off with half the pine nuts.
-Layer on half of the red pepper and the fresh basil. Slice with the aid of toothpicks and serve. Again, remember to let guests know there are toothpicks in the sandwiches.

Cheese Straws
1 box thawed puff pastry
Shredded cheddar cheese (you can use almost any cheese you like including Parmesan)
1 bunch chopped chives

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Unroll or unfold the pastry and press as much cheese and chives as you like into the puff pastry.
-Slice into even strips, about 1/2" thick.
-Twist each strip and place on a cookie sheet lined with Parchment or Silpat.
-Cook for 20 or so minutes until cheese is melted and crusty, and the cheese straws are a light brown.

1 box thawed puff pastry
3/4 cup sugar PER SHEET of pastry
Melted butter

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
-Unroll or unfold the pastry and brush generously with melted butter.
-Sprinkle on the sugar evenly.
-Roll both sides of the dough until they meet in the center.
-Let chill slightly before slicing the pastry into 1" slices and placing on the cookie sheet, cut slice up.
-Cook for 20 or so minutes until the pastry is brown and sugar has caramelized.