Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pork Tenderloin and Spicy Plum Sauce

Call me closed-minded, but pork tenderloin is pretty much the only part of the pig that I buy. Pork chops are boring and pork roasts come in 70-lb chunks. Wait, what am I saying? There's always bacon! Mmm....bacon, excuse me for a moment...

Ok, when you don't feel like smoking up your house or covering your stove in grease spatters or dying young like Dr. Atkins, choose a more healthful part of the pig that is a snap to divvy up into 1- or 2-person-sized portions.

Take the pork tenderloin medallion. Get the slim cylinder, slice it in 1-inch pieces, then simply sear on either side and you've got a meal in less than 10 minutes (I'm not kidding). Plus, these little beauties lend themselves to endless variation. I'm using a plum sauce here but you could do an apple-sage-cream medley, a little caramelized onion crown, or even some Asian-style sticky orange business. And it can all be done IN THE SAME PAN after you've seared the pork.

As if you need another reason, pork tenderloin medallions are perfectly delicious the next day. I like to slice them up for, ahem, salad, but David prefers to just stick the entire plate of leftover (if such a thing happens) in the micro and have at it.

Port Tenderloin Medallions with Spicy Plum Sauce

For the pork:
1 pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
Canola oil

For the sauce:
3 medium plums
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp rice wine (or red wine) vinegar
2 shakes powdered ginger
Red pepper flakes, Tobasco, or other face-kicking spice

Trim the pork tenderloin of all silvery skin. Slice in 1-inch medallions, then turn them flat and slightly press them to flatten. Salt and pepper both sides. Heat canola oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat (smoking!). Place the medallions in, trying not to overcrowd the pan (do two batches if you need to).

Cook 2 minutes. Flip. Cook 2 more minutes. Remove to a plate and cover with foil. Let sit for 5 minutes--they will continue to cook. This would be a good time to make a pan sauce, if you like.

For the sauce: Place chopped plums, onions, and garlic in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Let them sweat for 5-6 minutes, they'll produce their own liquid. Stir to keep from sticking/burning. Add soy sauce, juice, vinegar, and ginger and bring to a boil. Continue to cook 5 more minutes, reducing heat if needed, until nice and thick. Add spicing element to taste. Pour over tenderloin after its sitting period.

p.s. That pile of green you see on my plate? couldn't be simpler braised cabbage. Slice up some cabbage and 1/2 small onion. Heat a little oil, then throw the onions and cabbage in, toss around for about a minute. Splash the pan with about 2 Tbsp broth, then cover. Cabbage will cook itself. Season with plenty of S&P.


I am fully aware that the combination of brussels sprouts and the word "cake" in the title of this post may be anathema to you, but hang with me here. After reading about a
Japanese pancake (which I prefer to call a Japancake) using cabbage, I remembered the endless bag of sprouts rotting in my fridge and realized that sprouts are, in fact, just tiny tiny cabbages. So out they came, sliced up they were, briefly sauteed with some leeks and molded into the marginally unsettling but ultimately pleasant "pancake" pictured here. Ready?

(adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

1 1/2 cups finely shredded brussels sprouts (or cabbage)
1 medium leek, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
2 Tbsp whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp cream cheese
4 almonds, chopped

Heat some oil (just enough to film the pan when hot) in a small pan over medium heat and drop in the sprouts and leeks. Saute about 3 minutes, just until they begin to look translucent. Throw in garlic and cook one minute more. Remove and allow to cool just a bit. Dot cream cheese on top to help it melt.

In a big bowl, beat the egg slightly. Stir together sprouts/leeks, cream cheese, egg, flour, almonds, and plenty of salt and pepper. Return pan to heat and add some more oil. Turn out sprout mixture into pan and press down, smooshing it into a coherent circle. Cook 4 minutes. Flip (carefully), and cook 4 more minutes.

Turn out onto cutting board and slice into segments. Despite the fact that your brain tells you it is a piece of pizza, consume with a fork.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Today's Salad

I have decided to create a running post called "Today's Salad," designed to guilt and/or coerce you into eating more leafy greens. It will feature that day's creation to give you some ideas and to prove to you that salad is not boring. It is, in fact, worth your attention. Here we go.

3/31: Blue Cauli-Plum Salad
Romaine with cauliflower, red onions, celery, sliced plums, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts. See, isn't it cute all packed up to go?

3/30: Spicy Mediterranean
Romaine with carrots, celery, cauliflower, roasted peppers (from a jar), and feta. Dressing made from diluting hummus with lemon juice until pour-able.

More than you ever wanted to know about crepes

David and I have been on what you might call a crepe binge of late. I've had a crepe recipe on a sticky note clinging to my kitchen cabinets for the last few weeks, so I decided to try it before it lost all hope and released itself onto the floor, and eventually the trash can. A week later, we've had crepes approximately 53 times (or at least 4), all with great success.

You should make crepes too! And here's why: (1) They're super easy. (2) You can make the batter in advance and just cook 'em up whenever you want. (3) They are like a blank canvas and take to whatever you stuff in them. (4) You can use the SAME batter for dinner AND dessert. Brilliance. (5) While they're best fresh, they're really not so bad on day 2, so fill and fold, stick in a tupperware, and break it out at lunch time the next day.

Below is a very basic recipe. We've also had success with beer-batter, and I've wanted to try buckwheat, maybe you can try some out and let me know how it goes... Heads up: the batter requires at least an hour of resting time, so plan accordingly, but it can also hang out up to 2 days in the fridge. So if you want them for dinner, stir together the batter in the morn' before you leave for work. It's pretty much instantaneous after that.

Basic Crepes
(c/o 1,001 recipes I researched online)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk (warm-ish)
3 Tbsp butter, melted

Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl. Add eggs, milk and butter, whisking really well until no more lumps appear. This may take a few minutes. (The milk is warm-ish because you don't want the melted butter to immediately chill back into solid butter when it hits the bowl. 20 seconds in the micro should do it.)

Alternately, load everything in a blender and let 'er rip for a minute or so.

Cover in plastic and let sit at least an hour and up to 2 days.

When ready to use, stir batter (it may have separated) and break out your NONSTICK pan -- this is important -- and set it over medium-high heat. Using either butter or cooking spray, oil the pan and pour about 3 Tbsp of batter (just over half of your 1/4 cup measuring device). The amount will vary depending on the size of your pan. If all you have is a little guy, use only 2 Tbsp batter. If you have a mama-jama 12-incher, use a full 1/4 cup.

When the batter hits the pan, lift the handle and swirl to make a super-thin layer of crepey goodness. Cook 1 minute. Using a spatula, go around the entire perimeter of the crepe, releasing the edges. Carefully flip using the spatula or your hands. Cook another minute. Eat immediately.

So we've had success with several different fillings, but the important part is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. The batter will take to almost anything, but don't load it down with a bunch of complicated, greasy stuff.
  • Super thin sliced potatoes sauteed briefly with thin slices of red onion, added a few leaves of wilted spinach with preserved (or just plain) lemons. Sprinkled with feta.
  • Sauteed shredded sprouts + leeks + garlic. Combined with cream and a touch of goat cheese = creamy filling.
  • For dessert, nothing is better than strawberries and whipped cream, except maybe strawberries, whipped cream, and nutella
  • Another winner? Any jam you have in your fridge, preferably warmed

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roasted Vegetable Panzanella

Don't be intimidated by this fancy Italian word which, roughly translated, means "tasty way to use up old bread." Traditional panzanella involves rock hard italian bread soaked with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, maybe some cheese, and lots of oil. This concept lends itself to endless variety, like the version I have here.

What I like to do is toast bread / roast vegetables at the same time, toss them in a dressing you mix up while everything's cooking, and you've got a great meal in about half an hour. The best part is, it's even better the next day! Your bread will loose crispness, but it's traded in for an overnight soak in whatever delicious vinaigrette you tossed it in yesterday.

Roasted Vegetable Panzanella
Serves 3–4 (or 1–2 with leftovers)

3 cups multigrain or wheat bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cups vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (Almost any veg will do here, the one pictured above has brussels sprouts, broccoli florets, and red onions. Squashes/potatoes work particularly well.)
about 1/2 cup olive oil, total -- some for roasting and some for dressing
1 small apple, diced
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp dill
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400. Pour 1 Tbsp oil in a big bowl. Finely chop or grate your garlic clove into the oil. Let it soak while you chop the bread and vegetables, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle salt and pepper into oil. Toss bread in the oil and spread in a single layer on half a large baking sheet lined with foil.

2. In now-empty bowl, place vegetables and add 1 Tbsp oil, thyme, and plenty of salt and pepper. Spread on other half of baking sheet. Roast in oven about 20 minutes, pulling it out and stirring halfway through.
3. Back in the bowl, combine cider vinegar, honey and dill. Slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil in a stream, whisking vigorously until well combined. Stir in capers.

4. When pan is done in the oven, pull it out and let it cool about 5 minutes. Then toss bread, vegetables, and apple in the dressing. Eat warm.

**Store this at room temperature. If you want to eat the leftovers on the next day, taste a couple of pieces and see how much dressing has been absorbed. You may need to make up a little extra dressing if it's very dry.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Wonderful World of Salad

I recently had a request (that's right, I'm kind of a big deal) to post some recipes on the site that are quick and translate well into the following day's lunch. My first thought was, "What do I eat for lunch?" The answer is almost invariably, "Salad." But before you give up and stop reading, hear me out. I'm not talking about the lifeless, near-green iceberg lettuce of your corner deli or the prepackaged, preprocessed meats and cheeses in your average lunch facility. I'm talking about a legitimate mid-day meal that is satisfying, and allows you to really enjoy foods in their natural state.  In fact, I used to get excited when David would be gone during dinner so I could just make myself a salad. I got tired of waiting for him to have plans, so I started making him eat salads too. David actually now loves salad night. I hope I haven't just impugned his manhood. 

The thing that makes salad a great lunch meal is that it can be prepared in no time, even the night before, and stashed in your work fridge until you're ready for it. I even have some tricks for making it perfectly portable, and some serious strategy about how to make this concoction your own. Don't worry, there will be lunch-friendly posts in the future. But before I get in the kitchen, here's something to hold you over.  

Ok, making a really good salad. As I see it, there are 6, maybe 7, components (I told you there was strategy):
  1. The Lettuce -- you have many, many options on this front. I am a simple girl, and I almost always go with romaine. I find it is crunchy and substantial enough to make me feel like I just had lunch, not the precursor to what should be lunch. Green and red leaf are too soft for this purpose; those mesclun mixes, watercress, and arugula--while they have their places--do not a meal make.  Baby spinach, on the other hand, can be quite substantial. 
  2. The Vegetables -- this is where you get creative. Anything that can be eaten raw can go on a salad. Anything that must be cooked, can be cooked ahead of time and put on a salad. For me, this is always dependent on what lurks in our vegetable drawer. I like at least 3–4 different vegetables at a time. Also grains are good ... got some leftover barley or wheat berries? Toss them in! 
  3. The Sweet/Juicy -- an important element of the overall equation. I like to add at least one item to the salad that brightens it up, maybe it's tomatoes, maybe it's apple, pear, or plum chunks, maybe it's raisins or other dried fruit. 
  4. The Cheese -- cheese adds a soft, creamy note to the party. (Warning, life-lecture impending) Do me a favor and buy real cheese. This means that, instead of the 8-oz block of factory cheddar, maybe you choose the 4-oz gouda with herbs. Make a choice to purchase quality over quantity in your food, when possible. Not only will you be sophisticating your palette, you will be encouraging the production of small-batch cheeses, and you're less likely to pound through it mindlessly if it's dearer to your wallet. 
  5. The Kick -- onions, usually, or peppers. I like thinly sliced red or green onions. And always, always salt and pepper. 
  6. The Protein (optional) -- if I have leftover meat in the fridge or something that really needs to be cooked (and can be done quickly), I'll usually throw it on. Nuts and beans are good choices here, or a hard-boiled egg, which makes an appearance on many of my salads. 
  7. The Dressing -- Keep 2 types of dressing on hand: a vinegar-base and a creamy one. You can even make these yourself. That way, no matter what your vegetable drawer spits at you, the resulting salad with have an appropriate dressing. Also stash different kinds of vinegars (as well as lemons) for an easy splash.  
Now, the combination of above items can be tricky, especially when the dressing shows up. Take care, and learn what you like. Trial and error is likely, but you'll get the hang of it. If it helps, think of regions: Classic Americana (tomato, cucumber, celery, cheddar, ranch), Californian (apples, walnuts, green onions, blue cheese); Asian (carrots, edamame, cabbage, green onions, rice vinegar); Italian (tomatoes, peppers, feta or parmesan, vinaigrette); Mexican (carrots, corn, black beans, onions, monty jack, cilantro); vaguely European (potatoes, green beans, hard boiled egg, swiss cheese, vinaigrette). 

Two final bits of wisdom: Don't be afraid to use lots of different ingredients in a single salad, but don't use a ton. Maybe you only need half a carrot and celery stick, a couple of cauliflower florets, a quarter of a tomato and 3–4 walnuts. And secondly, texture is key. Mix slimy roasted red peppers with crunchy celery or mushy leftover sweet potatoes with crisp, toasted pecans. Really, the secret is variety, so you don't get bored after 2 bites. 

Time-saving tips:
  • Buy your lettuce, bring it home, wash and chop it, then store it in a zipper bag in your fridge. Instant handfuls of romaine at your disposal. It's like the bagged mixes, only cheaper. 
  • Wash everything when you bring it home from the grocery. This way, you can just pull and chop at will. 

 Tips for making your salad office-friendly:
  • Invest in two or three appropriately sized snap-lid containers. My favorites happen to be salvaged from chinese takeout. You want something long and low, so you can fork around and get all the goods, not eat in layers. 
  • Likewise, buy or steal some plastic forks to get the salad from your plate to your mouth. 
  • Buy a box of fold-top sandwich bags. Squeeze a tablespoon of dressing into one corner, tie a knot in the baggie, and slip it in your tupperware. Pop it open when you're ready to eat.
  • Round out the meal with a piece of bread (with which I like to sop up the leftover dressing). 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brownie Thins

Finally, a recipe that discards all that extra fatty padding and leaves you with just the thin, ever-so-subtle crisp of brownie tops. Full-sized brownies have their place, don't get me wrong, but this recipe comes together in a snap, supplies just the right amount of chocolate pleasure, and doesn't leave you with a full pan of thunder thighs waiting to happen. 

Brownie Thins
(c/o Bon Appetit -- makes 6 petite thins)

1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped 
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp egg (or substitute is fine here)
3 tsp flour
dash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt
2 Tbsp chopped nuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. In a medium bowl, melt chocolate and butter together in the microwave. Start with 30 seconds, then go 15 at a time until you can stir it smooth.
  2. Whisk in sugar and egg until smooth, about 1 minute. Add flour, extracts, and salt. Stir just to blend. 
  3. Let batter hang out for 10 minutes. 
  4. On a pan with parchment paper or a silpat, scoop out rounded teaspoons (that's right, a teaspoon) of dough a few inches apart. Using a piece of plastic wrap, sprayed with cooking oil if you like, press dough lumps down to flatten them a little. Sprinkle with nuts. 
  5. Bake for 7 minutes. Cool for 2. Eat them all at once. 

Pho Shizzle!

It was with some skepticism that I first tried pho (pronounced "fuh"), a Vietnamese noodle soup with the kind of raging reputation around Cambridge that doubled as my incentive not to try it--a very snooty, go-against-the-flooding waters move, I admit. Luckily, I was worn down and, once I tasted this incredible soup with it's soul-soothing broth and it's mountain of rice noodles and it's strange but welcome branch of mint leaves in my bowl, I have never gone back to regular noodle soups. Losers. 

Convinced that this was only a miracle that the Vietnamese could perform (and discouraged by recipes with umpteen-ingredients on the net), I was overjoyed when I found a 'Cook's Illustrated' version online. Imagine my shock when the soup that came off of my stove tasted pretty much like the soup, if not quite as perfect, at Le's, the standard of excellence. It's a perfectly good substitute when it's cold (which it is, often, in Boston) and Le's is a disheartening bus ride away. 

Ok, so if you've never had "fuh" (I like to say it forcefully, like I'm cussing at all other soups for even existing), it's kind of this surprising mixture of seemingly disparate items, which really come together perfectly in the end. All the ingredients are important. Don't get lazy on me. I'm including here what we usually do, which is chicken, although vegetable and beef are also hot commodities -- in fact, I think beef might be traditional. I could probably scare up a beef recipe if you're really craving cow. Just give me a shout. 

The recipe could serve four, but David and I are really greedy with the broth, so, you know, maybe 2-3 if you really like it.

Vietnamese-style Noodle Soup
(c/o Cook's Illustrated)

For the broth: 
5 cups chicken broth -- store bought [lame] or homemade [morally superior] 
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch pieces
3 Tbsp asian fish sauce* 
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar

For the soup: 
1 package ramen noodles, sauce pack discarded
1/2 lb chicken parts (thighs, breasts -- whatever you got, cut up if they're large)
3/4 – 1 cup Napa cabbage, sliced (other varieties will do fine here)
2 green onions, sliced 
Mint leaves
Cilantro leaves
Chopped peanuts
Slices of lime
[I like to slice and steam other vegetables to throw in, as you see above, I used carrots and zucchini. Anything you would normally put in a soup would work--think about what comes in your vegetables from chinese take-out and just replicate that ]
  1. Put all ingredients for broth in a large pot and bring to a boil; simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Add chicken pieces and boil another 15 minutes. Remove chicken and let cool till you can handle it, then chop it bite-size.
  2. Place the ramen in a small bowl, and dip out a ladle of the broth to pour over it. Let soften. 
  3. Distribute noodles, cabbage, vegetables, and chicken between bowls. Cover in broth. Add 3-4 mint leaves, 2-3 sprigs of cilantro, sprinkle peanuts over top, and spritz with lime. Voila! 

*Star anise can be difficult to get your hands on. If you absolutely can't get it, it's no big deal. But it really does make a difference, in my opinion. 

Fish sauce, on the other hand, should not be hard to find--look in the international aisle or (you city folks) at an Asian grocery. This goes in a lot of Asian foods and keeps for a long time in the fridge. Invest in a bottle and use it to spice up your stir fry or dumpling recipes. 


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whoopie! (pies)

Apparently, whoopie pies are now trendy the way eccentric cupcakes were last year and boring cupcakes were the year before. I know this, not because I am myself trendy in any way, but because the 'New York Times' did a huge spread on this tasty cake last week. In true NYC fashion, this profile offered a gentle pat on the forward-thinking backs of its cutting edge New Yorkers for executing yet another culinary triumph.  Never mind that folks in Maine (not to mention the Amish) have never stopped eating this since they started, like, a century ago. If whoopie pies are back in style, someone should probably let Mainers know that they went out in the first place.

I happen to think that the brilliance of this treat is in its similarity to that other genius creation, the sandwich. It's all the glories of a piece of cake, but with the messy bits tucked carefully into a neat, portable exterior. No fork. No wrapper. No glamour. Just a pie you can easily eat with one had while steering your horse and buggy with the other. 


Whoopie Pies
(c/o The New York Times--my recipe makes 2 sizable pies)
For the Cake:
2 Tbsp butter, room temp
1/4 Cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp egg substitute (or 1/4 beaten egg)
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 cup buttermilk (or 3 T yogurt + 1 T milk)
1/2 Tbsp veg oil 

For the Filling
1 Egg white
5 Tbsp butter, room temp
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch salt

To prepare the cakes: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Beat butter and sugar till fluffy. Add egg and nilla. Beat some more.
  2. Combine all dry ingredients (flour through cocoa) in a small bowl. Pour oil into buttermilk. Then, beginning with the flour mixture, add alternately with the buttermilk to the batter (flour - b'milk - flour - b'milk - flour) until it's all incorporated. 
  3. On a parchment lined baking sheet, scoop out four, 1/4-cup sized scoops. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until cakes spring back when pressed lightly. Cool on a rack.

Now, the filling: 
  1. In a double boiler or a bowl set over simmering water, whisk together the egg and sugar, vigorously, until sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches 180º. (Confession: I don't think I got up to 180, I just sort of guestimated and it came out fine.)
  2. Transfer to a mixing bowl and beat on high speed (with whisk attachment if you have that option) for a good long while, until doubled in volume, thick, and shiny. Reduce speed and add butter 1 Tbsp at a time. 
  3. Finish with vanilla and salt, then hit the beaters up to high again for one minute. You should have a nice, stiff cream. 
  4. Split between 2 cookies and sandwich them to make pies! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crazy Good Frozen Banana Bites

What? I know what you're thinking. Something this adorable could not also be easy and cheap. But oh, ho it is. And also? Impossible not to eat. David and I popped them like tater tots. Here's what you need to make this happen in your mouth soon: 

Frozen Banana Bites
1 banana
1/2 cup chocolate chips or other fine, dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp cream, half and half, or milk
1-2 tsp corn syrup (optional, helps with consistency in my opinion)
Toppings of your delight--I used toasted coconut and chopped cashews

First, slice the banana in 1-inch slices. Lay them on a little plate and stick them in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chips, dairy product of your choice, and corn syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Start at about 30 seconds, then take it out and check it. Keep going at 15-second intervals until you can stir it smooth. 

Once the naners have a nice chill, take them out and, working quickly, dunk each in the chocolate, coating well--a skewer and/or a fork are both helpful here--then roll in your topping. The bananas will likely have a cooling effect on the chocolate. If it starts to get gloopy, then one of two things is happening (or possibly both): your bananas are too warm or your chocolate is too cool. Return the chocolate to the microwave for 10 seconds and see if that helps. If not, freeze your bananas a little longer. 

Place the adorable little banana bites back on the tray and, if you can wait, let them freeze at least 3 hours. Make them in the afternoon, then forget about them until after dinner. Oh I'm so sad they're gone. Really. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Panfried Smashed Potatoes

Stop what you're doing right now and make these. Make them, I say. Do it now! 

This is a great a la carte option because you can buy as many or as few teeny red potatoes as you want and just make that much. The pan you see pictured above fed two of us with plenty to spare, by my count about 14 potatoes. 

The key to this outstanding recipe is buying really small, but uniformly sized red potatoes. I'm talking 1 to 1 1/2 inches max. My market happened to have these, but if your store only has big, 2-3 inchers, it will just be too big, I'm sorry. Baby yukons would probably work too, but I really dig the red skin on these. 

Panfried Smashed Potatoes
(c/o Gourmet) 

8-12 baby red potatoes
2–3 Tbsp oil
Parmesan cheese
Salt (preferably kosher), pepper, and freshly chopped parsley

Place the potatoes in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. 

On a cutting board (or right on your counter, you maverick) gently press the taters with a blunt surface. You want them to split and flatten, but not break into 15 pieces. You'll get the hang of it. A pancake-flipper will work, I used the side of my big knife. The recipe recommended a potato masher, but my taters slipped through the holes, and I didn't like that. 

Meanwhile, in a skillet, bring 2 Tbsp oil to med-hi heat. Place the potatoes in a single layer and let them cook 10 minutes on each side, until nice and crispy. Be sure to keep an eye on them--you may need to add more oil or lower the heat if they're browning too quickly. 

Off heat, generously season with salt and pepper and sprinkle parsley. Then even more generously coat them with parmey cheese. Serve immediately. 

Braised Leeks

Here begins the type of post I will heretofore refer to as "a la carte." Often David and I will have veggie nights where we take whatever items I have salvaged from the previous weekend's Haymarket and try to make a meal's worth out of them--kinda like the good, old-fashioned "veggie plate" of my youth (only with less butter and, sadly, no fried cornbread). Sometimes there are hits, sometimes there are misses. I'm going to try to record the hits here, so if you ever find yourself with, say, some leeks you're not sure what to do with, you may find ideas. 

So, braised leeks for two. Pretty simple:
2 leeks
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup broth of your choice
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tbps fresh (or 1 tsp dried) thyme leaves
Plenty of S&P, and some olive oil.

Start by cleaning your leeks. Slice off the leaves where they move from light to dark green (you only want to eat the white/light green parts) and cut off only what you must from the stem end. Split them in half long ways and hold them under the running water of the faucet, gently pulling the layers apart and getting the dirt out of 'em. 

Ok, first preheat your oven to 400. Then, heat a little bit of oil in a heavy pan over med-hi heat. Salt and pepper the cut side of the leeks and place them cut-side-down in the pan. Season the backs while that side sears, about 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, flip each leek half over and sprinkle onions in; cook another 3-4 minutes. 

Pour in wine, broth, and thyme. Stir to combine, then throw the skillet in the oven to finish cooking, about 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, scoop liquid and onions over top of the leeks and serve. 

Less Waste, More Flavor

This may seem like a "duh" thing, but after years of throwing away unusable vegetable scraps, I have finally seen the (green) light! Here's what you need to start doing TODAY: 

Get a gallon-size zipper bag and keep it in your vegetable drawer. Just keep it there. Every time you slice some celery, peel a carrot, chop the stalk off your broccoli crowns, loose the green leaves of your leeks, have a sad little Charlie-Brown like stalk left from harvesting your herb leaves ... (make sure it's washed and) toss it in that bag! Once you reach a critical mass, which for us does not take very long at all, you've got the makings of an exquisite broth! You can fill up a pot with just water and vegetables, or the next time you have meat bones of any kind, throw them in a pot with your scraps, simmer for an hour or so, and you've got broth! 

"Why do I want broth?" you may be asking yourself. Because it tastes better than water, idiot. Boil your rice in it, wilt your greens with it, make sauce out of pan-drippings, use it as a soup base, anything you can think of. I keep an old sport water bottle in my fridge door full of broth so I have it on hand whenever I want to pop the top and squeeze a little broth into the party. 

One thing to note: vegetable broth will last longer in the fridge than meat-based broths will. So if you have an immediate plan for your broth, great! If not, invest in some freezer bags, measure out 1- or 2-cups at a time, and freeze them until you need them. Never buy a can or box-o-broth again! 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Homemade pizza in 20 minutes (no yeast required!)

Tonight we discovered a good, last minute stand-in for pizza crust if you don't feel like (or secretly fear the awesome and inexplicable power of) yeasted crust made from scratch. Instead of yeast, it uses a combination of baking powder and beer, which also adds a nice kick. It cooks on the stovetop, right in your hot pan. Could not be simpler.

Except that there's a food processor involved. As usual, you can absolutely make this recipe processor-less, just do some stretches before hand.

Pizza night (like salad night and pasta night) is usually my excuse to clean out the vegetable drawer and dump it on a tomato-ey round of dough. Tonight was no exception. Take yesterday's leftover barbecue pork, throw on some cabbage, green onions, sliced zucchini, and sprinkle it all with zesty jalapeno monterey jack. Maybe your leftovers don't sound like mine, but rest assured, a jarred tomato sauce and cheese will do you just fine. But let this be a lesson, you can put anything on a pizza. This crust recipe makes 2 individual-size pizzas (or one big mother if you have the badass, 80-lb. griddle/grill we do).

Speedy Stovetop Pizza Crust
(c/o Cook's Country)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup beer (a nice, light lager)
1 Tbsp olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, powder, sugar, and salt. With the motor running, add the beer and olive oil. Let run until it starts to clear sides and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Take it out, wrap it in plastic, let it rest 10 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with a little bit of oil. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each into a 9-inch circle. Place one circle at a time into the pan and cook 3-4 minutes, popping any bubbles that might appear with a fork. Flip 'er and layer your toppings, then cover with foil or a lid to the pan. In a mere 5 minutes, you will have delicious pizza! (Then you have to do it all over again with the second one, but it'll be just as good, promise!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg (or) Eat Your Vegetables! ... for Breakfast

It's high time I let the secret out...David pretty much makes the best soft-boiled egg you've ever nestled your fork into. What I love about his eggs are that you get the experience of a poached egg without all the fuss of chasing little tails of egg white through a pot of just-simmering water using a spoon that's slotted but not-too-slotted and gauging exactly when to take it out so it's runny but not raw... I'm getting worn out just thinking about it. David's eggs are perfect every time. Get your pencils, people, he's agreed to share his method.

The Perfect Soft-Boiled Egg

1. Start with a small pot of water. You want to bring it to a nice rolling boil with enough water to cover the egg.

2. Once you hit the "roll" (his term--for translation, insert "ing boil"), turn off the heat, wait for the big bubbles to settle, and carefully set your egg in the water using a spoon. Cover with lid.

3. Set a timer for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath with cold water and a couple of ice cubes in a small bowl. When the timer goes off, scoop your egg out and carefully place it in the bath for less than a minute--just to shock it to stop cooking. (David says you can run cold water over it, though the bath works better. The idea is that the shock of cold shrinks the egg, separating it from the shell.

4. Take the now-boiled egg and turn it fat-side-up. Gently tap in a circle around the fat end, then pry the shell off. Using either a knife or a spoon, slip your utensil between the shell and the white, gently loosening the shell. Once a decent bit of the shell is off, you can slip a spoon in there and scoop the egg out.

5. Voila! A sprinkle of salt, a piece of toast, and you've got breakfast!

Part 2: Eat your vegetables FOR BREAKFAST

As you'll notice, there's a hefty dose of spinach in my breakfast, pictured above. We've been trying to incorporate veggies into more of our meals lately, and I discovered this 5-minute breakfast technique that I genuinely look forward to. It's great with David's soft-boiled eggs, but if you've only got 5 minutes and one pan, this will do ya:

1. Take a generous handful of raw spinach and wash it. With the rinsing water still clinging to the leaves, toss them in a hot pan. Cover with a lid and allow to steam 1-2 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Once spinach is sufficiently wilted, take it out and put it on a plate.

2. With a wet paper towel, swipe the pan and spray it with pam or drop a small pad of butter in it. Crack and fry an egg to your liking. Place on top of spinach, season with salt and pepper--and my personal favorite--grate parmesan cheese over top.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cauliflower + Blue Cheese Soup

BEFORE you write this post off because you don't care for either of the ingredients listed prominently in its title, let me assure you that this tastes strongly of NEITHER cauli or blue cheese. Rather, it is a rich, creamy marriage of the two that belongs in a fondue pot, not your soup bowl. But wait! It's not just a vat of cheese! You can eat it! 

Because I have recently developed a taste for blue cheese in small quantities and because Whole Foods recently had their Amish blue cheese on sale (wagons right there on the label and everything), I picked up a hunk and promptly started trolling the interweb for ways to use it. 

Thankfully, I quickly came upon this recipe on Epicurious (basically the online database for Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines, plus some others). Their recipe serves four, this one will make about 2 hefty mugs-full: 

Cauliflower and Blue Cheese Soup
1/2 lb. cauliflower florets
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small leek, chopped (white and light green parts only)
1/3 cup chopped celery
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 oz blue cheese
1 Tbsp white wine, sherry, or worcestershire 

First, you need to cook the cauliflower, which can be done in several ways. Either dump them in a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes, until they're tender and drain. Or put them in a microwave-safe bowl with a little bit of water, cover with plastic and zap for about 4 minutes. Drain well. 

In a medium-large pot, melt the butter over medium heat, and add the onions, leeks, celery, and drained cauliflower. Saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the flour and cook 2 minutes. 

Slowly introduce the chicken broth in 3 additions, stirring to incorporate each time and scraping the bottom to get all that good brown stuff (*vocabulary alert = this is called the fond*) off the pot and into your soup. Add the milk and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes. 

Transfer the soup to a food processor or blender and puree about a minute, until creamy. Return to pot and add blue cheese, whisking to melt. Add the wine or worcestershire, whatever you have around.

Serve with toasted bread. You'll be mentally whisked to a Swiss chalet where a man named Georg (pronounced 'gay-org')  is wearing a cable knit sweater and a pair of skis, yodeling instructions on how to put your money in an anonymous, tax-free account. It's that good. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Canada, in cake form

Although I am a fan of Canada, I never really equate delicious cuisine with our nondescript brothers to the north. That is, of course, except for that sweet nectar of the lumberjack gods: maple syrup. I mean, who can't love a food product that is brought to your stack of pancakes via a spigot shoved into the side of a tree? It's ingenuity at its finest.

On a recent trip to Quebec, David and I quickly discovered that maple was their claim to culinary fame, and it made the menu rounds. I still vividly remember the melting maple candy I savored at one of many candy shops that received our patronage during our 2-day stay. That thing alone was worth the 14-hour round trip drive.

So the accidental cake I made this evening was a surprising throwback. Remember that maple applesauce I told you about recently? It's still sitting in the fridge. I know people like to sub out applesauce for butter in their baking sometimes, so I decided to join the party. I used a spice cake recipe from BH&G, and decided to also follow their recommendation to top it with browned butter frosting. Holy crap, people. The woodsy flavor of the browned butter plus the mapley sweetness of the spice cake??? Wrap me in flannel and ship me across the border, eh?

Maple-Applesauce Cake with Browned Butter Frosting
(makes 5 x 5 -- or equivalent -- size cake)
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 tsp baking powder
pinch baking soda
1/8 tsp each ginger and cloves
1-2 shakes of nutmeg
2 Tbsp butter, soft
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk, preferably room temp (or 2 Tbsp substitute)
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup maple applesauce

For the cake: preheat oven to 350º. Combine all dry ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat butter until creamy, 20 seconds. Add sugar and beat until well combined and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add yolk and vanilla, beating until incorporated. Alternately add flour and applesauce until it's all in.

Pour into a greased and floured 5 x 5 (or other very small) baking receptacle. Bake about 20 minutes, checking the last 5 to make sure you don't overdo it. Cool on a rack.

Browned Butter Frosting
3 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp milk

Place butter in a small pan over low heat. Slowly cook until butter turns a "delicate brown". It will foam and you will smell it. Keep the heat low and your eye on it--I can't really give you a time on this one. It will take a couple of minutes.

In a bowl, combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Pour in browned butter and beat (electric mixers again) until a spreadable consistency that you like. If it seems dry, add milk 1 tsp at a time. If it seems wet, add powdered sugar 2 Tbsp at a time.

Pasta for Uno (or Due)

If I told you that you could have fresh, homemade pasta in LESS TIME than it takes to cook those wooden, dried skewers you're used to eating, would you believe me? Since dried pasta usually takes up to 10 minutes to cook, fresh pasta kicks its butt, with a mere minute-or-two cook time. And you can do all the prep while your water is coming to a boil. Well, there are a few caveats....you must have a pasta rolling machine and a little bit of counter space, and if you have a second pair of hands to help you, that's even better--it will cut your prep time (mathematically unsurprisingly) in half.

You just need some proportions is all. We're BIG fans of freshly rolled pasta up here, so much so that we do it probably once a week. It's so good all you need is a little butter and parm cheese and you've got a delicious (read: kissing my fingertips in exaggerated Italian gesticulations) meal.

Some things to keep in mind:
  1. Use whatever flour you want. Durum/semolina is traditional; all purpose works great; we like to go halfsies with some whole grain flours (spelt, barley, whole wheat, and kamut flours have all worked for us in the past). Just be sure to use about half regular white flour and half grain flour.
  2. Throw in other stuff too. As you can (or maybe you can't because I'm a saaaad photographer) tell, we had lots of fresh thyme in the fridge, so I chopped it up and threw it in the dough. This is your chance to un-bland one of the blankest canvases in the food universe.
  3. This multiplies pretty well (so just double to serve 2-3).
  4. Speaking of which, it will also last up to 2 days in a zipper baggie in the fridge. So if you feel like pasta 3 days in a row, double up.

Homemade Egg Pasta
(Serves 1, generously)
1 egg
2/3 cup flour
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

Throw all ingredients in a bowl and beat with a fork until combined (dough will be very shaggy and dry). Turn out onto the counter and knead 5 or 6 times, until you can form a pretty solid ball. It will be dense. If it's just absolutely too dry, sprinkle a little water (say, up to 1 Tbsp) on the dough while you knead. DO NOT over-water your dough. You'll end up with chewing gum instead of pasta.

Meanwhile, fill a small pot with water and put on stove to boil.

If you have time, let the dough hang out for about 20 minutes. If not, proceed to divide your ball into 4 chunks. Flatten slightly with your hand and begin running through pasta roller. You want to do it 7-8 times on the largest setting, folding dough in half between each run. It will seem like a tragically lost cause at first, but eventually you will end up with lovely sheets of dough. Once you've completed 8 rounds on the largest setting, turn the dial to the next-narrowest setting, running dough sheet through once on each number. If your machine is numbered like mine (1-7, 7 being the widest and 1 the most narrow), stop at 3. We found that when we went all the way to the end our pasta was almost nonexistently thin. Repeat with all four dough chunks.

If you do not have a pasta roller, break out the rolling pin. If you have the patience to roll that dough out into a super thin sheet (1/8-in), more power to you.

Finally, run the sheets through the cutter--we like the wide fettucini noodles--or cut sheets with a knife, you non machine-owning reader.

By now, your water is probably boiling. Drop your pasta into the water and push it around a little. Cook for 1-2 minutes (seriously, that's all!), then drain. Toss with a little olive oil and parmesan cheese -- not the powder, for the love of pete -- salt and pepper.

If you need a little more than just the noodles, get creative with what's in your fridge or pantry. We happened to have some brussels sprouts and leeks, which I sauteed, and some ground turkey, which I made delightful little meatballs out of (but this is another post for another day). Beans work nicely, leftover meats cut bite-size, you see where I'm going with this...

For a fuller meal, chop up some veggies and saute them until soft. Don't forget the garlic, people. Save that water your pasta cooked in, dip some out with a ladle and throw it in to your veggie saute pan. Instant sauce!