Thursday, February 25, 2010

Grilled Cheese ... With Short Ribs (Naturally)

Dear Bon Appetit Magazine,

Kudos to you for your cover recipe last month, the one that travelled with me to and from Virginia, peeking out of my purse and making my tummy rumble on the plane; the one that constantly glared at me from the kitchen table for the following weeks; the one that immediately seized David by the stomach, prompting him to ask--almost daily--"When are we going to have that sandwich?"

You sent me to the store. You brought me home with ribs. You made me wait while the meat slow roasted. You forced me into the seemingly unnecessary step of quick pickling (quickling?) onions. But then, oh then, you gave me one of the best sandwiches of my life. I forgive you for the trouble and promise to repent in all depth and sincerity every time I eat this grilled cheese. Which will be often. Often.


P.S. Here's an idea: You could probably buy any type of beef that makes good stew meat, slow roast it with just some salt, pepper, a couple slices of onion, and some water, break it up and serve that on the sandwich--am I right?

Grilled Cheese and Short Rib Sandwich
serves 2; takes several hours for the roasting of the meat; about 20 minutes once it's done.

The Beef:
1 1/2 ish lbs. beef short ribs
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 Tbsp water or broth
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 bay leaf
Pinch fresh or dried thyme
  • Season ribs liberally with salt and pepper. Melt a pad of butter or some olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add ribs and sear on all sides until brown, about 8 minutes total. Remove ribs to a rimmed plate and add vegetables to pot, sauteing until they start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine, water/broth, garlic, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, return ribs to pot, cover and simmer 1 hour. After an hour, flip the ribs and cook an hour more. Remove cover and cook 30 more minutes.
  • Turn off heat and allow ribs to cool. When you can handle them, pull them out and pick all the meat off, discarding the fat and bones, and breaking into bite size pieces. Spoon fat off of sauce left in pot and return meat chunks to it.
The onions:
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • In a small skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and saute the onions, adding a little salt. Cook until tender, 6ish minutes. Add vinegar and salt, stirring until vinegar is absorbed. Keep handy.
The rest:
Monterey Jack cheese, sliced
Arugula or mesclun greens
More butter
  • Heat up your griddle, skillet, or whatever. Butter outsides of bread and layer as follows: 1. Bread; 2. Meat mixture; 3. Cheese; 4. Onions; 5. Greens; 6. Bread.
  • Cook over medium heat until bread is crispy and cheese is melted.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stuffing Stuff

This post is meant to be instructional. It is carefully and lovingly designed to empower you in your own kitchen. Mostly this means that I don't use recipes when scrapping this kind of thing together, and thus cannot pass any on. But it also means that this is a really tasty, slightly elegant, delightfully contained way to feed yourself (in addition to others if necessary) out of what would otherwise seem like a bunch of disparate fridge items.

So, by way of example, let me tell you about two things we had for dinner this past week. Exhibit A: Eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, mushrooms and quinoa. And Exhibit B: Sweet potatoes stuffed with cauliflower-green beans-collards-and-quinoa (apparently no picture of this one).
Here's the strategy:

1. Get something with a skin, something that will hold its shape. Think squash, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc. Hollow it out. Some things are easier to scoop when they're raw, like eggplant. Some things are easier when they've been cooked a little, like potatoes. Sprinkle with oil, salt and pepper and throw it in the oven to soften up while you prepare the filling.

2. Scrabble together some filling ingredients that you will go ahead and cook, then stir together. You want everything to be cooked before it goes into the mix. I ALWAYS use the following and you must too:
  • Mixture of vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces and precooked (boiled, roasted, sauteed, microwaved--however you want), including whatever you scooped out of your containment vessel and always, always onions and garlic
  • Grain or bread crumbs to absorb some of the moisture; rice, barley, quinoa, any whole grains precooked, fresh or dried crumbs
  • Cheese: it's rich, it's creamy, it's delicious
  • Nuts: especially if you toast them first, they add a bit of umami
  • 1 egg, beaten: it holds the whole thing together
So what you will do is prepare all your bits: cook the vegetables, the grain, toast the nuts. Then, in a big bowl, toss it all together with some cheese, salt, pepper, and whatever other seasonings you think might be delicious. Taste and season accordingly. Stir in a beaten egg and scoop into your hollowed-out shells. Bake in a 375º oven for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through and bubbly.
The key is proportions. I happen to live in a glorious grocery town where the abundant produce shelves let me buy as much or as little of anything as I want. Only need 3 mushrooms? There's a bin of them. Handful of green beans? Just one leek? When you're putting together your filling, consider what would be reasonable for 1 or 2 people to eat. I'll include some approximate measures below just to give you an idea.

Stuffed Eggplant: 1 medium eggplant, split and hollowed; eggplant meat, 1/4 lb. sliced mushrooms, 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic--all sauteed together; 1 tomato diced, 1/4-ish cup grated parmesan; 1 cup cooked quinoa. Stirred together with an egg.

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: 1 large sweet potato, microwaved 5 minutes, split, and scooped out; 1/4 head cauliflower florets, handful green beans, 4 collard leaves--all blanched; 1/2 onion and 2 cloves garlic sauteed; potato meat, 1/4-ish cup ricotta; toasted chopped pistachios; 1 cup cooked quinoa. Stirred together with an egg.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


You didn't think I was going to let Fat Tuesday pass without celebrating, did you? In lieu of stripping off my top and shouting for beads from passers by (it was snowing, after all), I thought maybe a Louisiana specialty for dinner would suffice.

Last week, when planning a themed dinner for the Saints Superbowl Extravaganza, a friend asked me, "What exactly is Jambalaya?" Well, it's kind of a dump-pot of meat, seafood, vegetables, spices, and rice, often a leftover meal scrapped together from what's in the cupboard (or, at least, what would have been in Louisiana cupboards).
The story is that jambalaya is a kind of bastardized Spanish paella, developed out of indigenous resources when the Spanish first set their boots on the swampy Gulf soil. Rice, which grew in abundance along the Mississippi, was about the only familiar ingredient. So those Creoles added what they had: oysters, shrimp and crawfish. The Cajuns came along with andouille sausage and ham. Competing stories suggest that the name 'jambalaya' comes from the Spanish word for ham, jambon, and the West African word for rice, yaya.

Competing traditions also dictate whether or not your jambalaya uses tomatoes (Creole, yes, Cajun, uh-uh). What is entirely necessary, though, is the "holy trinity" of both Creole and Cajun cooking: onions, celery, and bell peppers. Any and every recipe starts with these three ingredients. They are a must.
So here's a weeknight version, ready in about an hour. It calls for long grain rice, which cooks up fluffy and stays separate, but MAKE SURE you get a parboiled kind (Uncle Ben's, Zatarain's, etc.) to cook in time. Alternately, you'll have to precook your rice for about 30 minutes before adding it in--not a problem, but one more pot to wash, you know.

Weeknight Jambalaya
serves 2; ready in about an hour; see note above about rice choices

1/2 Tbsp butter
1 link andouille sausage, halved and sliced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 small green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup tomatoes + juice from can of diced tomatoes -OR- 1 diced tomato + 1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup long grain enriched rice (see above)
3/4 cup chicken stock**
1 tsp Tony's**
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup diced chicken (cooked or raw, whatever)
1 cup raw shrimp, peeled and shelled**
3 green onions, sliced
2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  1. Preheat your oven to 350º. Have everything chopped, lined up and ready to go. You're going to add things in stages, so you want it all prepped like they do on cooking shows. Except the shrimp--you won't need it for a while, so keep it (peeled) in the fridge.
  2. Now, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add andouille pieces and saute until they start to brown, about 2 minutes. Add HALF of the trinity (diced celery, bell pepper, and onion) and saute another 3 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Add tomatoes and juice, stirring another minute. Add rice and stir constantly for 2 minutes.
  3. Dump in the following: stock, rest of trinity, Tony's, Worcestershire, minced garlic, and chicken pieces. Stir to combine. Cover tightly and throw it in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, carefully remove from oven and check status of your rice. If it's looking good, add shrimp, parsley and green onions. Cook, uncovered, for 12 more minutes, until shrimp is done and most of broth is absorbed. Enjoy with a big piece of crusty French bread.
**Some notes:
  • Because the stock is so much of your flavor, you want the essence of all the components in it. When you peel your shrimp, throw some of the shells in a pot and pour the stock in with it. Heat it up and let it simmer for a few minutes while you're preparing the other stuff to infuse the stock with shrimpiness.
  • Not everyone has access to the riches of Tony Chachere's creole spice mix. If you must make your own, try Emeril's recipe.
  • And, not to be Debbie Downer, but promise me you will not buy shrimp farmed in Thailand, frozen, and shipped over here. You don't need much, so spring for the more expensive stuff: wild American caught. We're in the tiny window of Maine shrimp season up here, so we're lucky, but there are so, so very many reasons to buy domestically. Not least of which is to keep those Gulf shrimpers in business. Please.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Beet + Avocado + Goat Cheese Sandwich

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT be deterred by the title of this post, or the ingredients contained in this sandwich--which may seem to you like the rejects of the produce department. Not so! They play together like the members of Mylie Cyrus's backup band: rich and sweet.

This sandwich is the new business. And if you are David, this sandwich may also include a piece of crispy bacon. Oh. My. Delicious. Promise me you'll try it, even if (YOU THINK) you don't like beets.
The Beginning of the New Sandwich Era will require the following...
1 large red beet
2 slices of bread
goat cheese
an avocado
lettuce greens
(optional slice of bacon)

  1. First, roast your beet: preheat your oven to 375º. Wrap the beet in foil and toss it in the oven. Beet is done when you can slip a paring knife into the parcel and meet no resistance. When cool enough to handle, peel the beet (skin will slip right off) and slice into 1/2-inch rounds. Toss the beet with a little salt and a tablespoon of cider vinegar.
  2. Slap some goat cheese on both slices of bread. Top with a layer of beet, avocado slices, and greens. If you want, slip a crisp slice of bacon in there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meringue Cookies

Since we are so close, I will tell you that I spent most of Tuesday throwing up. It started mid-jog, thus allowing me to puke all over Cambridge and Boston, and lasted all day and night, thus allowing me to question the meaning of life, the perils of the human body, the coldness of the bathroom floor, and how many times one's entire digestive tract can seize and expel before one simply gives up and dies right there on the spot.

But then Wednesday came, and there were crackers and ginger ale. Limited nausea. A good book. Suddenly it was 4:00 in the afternoon and I hadn't ralphed all day. I didn't even feel like ralphing. In fact, I felt more like making something delicate that my stomach wouldn't repel and that would restore some of my energy--since even rolling over on the couch left me breathless. Plus, there had to be dessert.

Not really knowing the best thing to eat after, ahem, performing a self-cleanse, I followed my dad's advice and decided to "Call it out," as he put it. If I was still sick, there was only one way to find out. I tested the waters with a cup of coffee. No problem. Dessert should be fiiiiiiiine.

But maybe a simple dessert, with limited butter. Maybe one with no butter at all! Yes! And one that only requires me to stand up for about five minutes! Yes! This is it!

Meringue Cookies
makes 7-8 cookies; takes 3 hours total, but only about 5 minutes active time

1 large egg white (preferably room temperature)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
(*optional, 1/2 tsp cornstarch, see note below)

First, preheat oven to 200º.
Now, Step 1: With electric mixer, beat egg white and vanilla on medium-low speed until frothy. Like so:
Step 1: Add cream of tartar, increase speed, and beat until soft peaks form. Like so:

Step 3: Add sugar (and cornstarch, if using) in 3 additions, beating well after each time. Let the mixture go until whites are very stiff and glossy. Like so:
Step 4: Quickly spoon meringue mixture into a ziplock back and snip one corner off. Pipe into whatever shapes you like--I happen to like wide, flat meringues. Alternately, just get a spoon and slop them onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, then turn off the oven and leave the oven door slightly ajar. Allow the meringues to cool completely in the oven (could take 45 minutes or so), so they fully dry out. If you try to cool them too fast, they'll likely crack. Store in an airtight container for a couple days.

*About the cornstarch: some people say cornstarch helps the meringues keep their shape. This is probably true. If you're going for beauty, maybe go with the cornstarch. I didn't feel like fishing out my box and was pretty sure neither David nor I were going to care what these babies looked like, so I skipped it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

the CHOCOLATIEST cookies in existence

These are brownies masquerading in cookie form. They are ri-di-cu-lous (slow, emphatic syllables necessary), but be forewarned: the batter is a little strange. It comes together pretty runny, then must sit for 20 minutes -- during which time its microscopic magical chocolate bits unite into a fudgy mass. It continues to harden as it sits, so go ahead and dole out all the cookies at one time. You can keep the pre-formed cookies in the fridge if you don't want to bake them all, but don't wait to scoop; you'll end up with a rock of dough (which I may or may not have hacked at with a sharp knife, then eaten without baking).

Super Fudge Cookies
adapted from Cook's Illustrated; makes about 10 cookies; takes about 45 minutes

1/2 cup flour
2 Tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 Tbsp butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecan pieces (optional)
  1. First, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Then, in a small bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave, working in 20 second increments until you can stir it smooth. (Alternately, melt over very low heat on the stovetop.) In a third bowl, whisk the egg and vanilla together.
  2. In a medium bowl (yes, a fourth one, sorry), beat butter with sugars until well incorporated and smooth, 30 seconds. Add egg mixture and mix for another 30 seconds. Now the melted chocolate, another 30 seconds. Stir in dry ingredients as well as chips and pecans until incorporated; batter will be thin. Cover with plastic wrap and walk away for 20 minutes.
  3. Return to discover your dough has undergone a mysterious yet wonderful transformation. Preheat your oven to 350º and scoop out about 2 Tbsp pieces of dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. When oven is ready, bake 11-12 minutes. Cookie should seem under done, but it will continue to cook as it cools. Don't overbake! You want this baby to be gooey!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lamb Stew for Two

So every time I open my freezer lately, this one frozen slab of lamb meat keeps sliding out of and threatening to land on my big toe. I'd been saving (read: forgetting about) this remnant of the bygone summer glory days of farmer's markets for just the right meal. It's not every day you eat lamb, right? Maybe it's been jumping out at me for a reason.

Enter the propitious loan of a certain cookbook with a mighty tasty-looking lamb stew contained therein. A lamb stew that called for three specific vegetables which were, at that moment, decaying in my fridge.

I must confess that, for someone who really prizes the power of simple foods, I was a bit skeptical about the lack of seasoning in the recipe. I mean, it calls for water for goodness sake. Egads, was I wrong. Apparently lamb is so delicious that it needs very little help--don't substitute. You only need a little!

Lamb Stew for Two
ready in 1 1/2 hours; adapted from Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox

1/2 -2/3 lb. boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large carrot, halved and sliced
2 medium turnips, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small celery root, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 small leek, sliced into 3/4-inch rounds and rinsed well
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)
1 1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil aplenty
  1. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Season lamb cubes generously with salt and pepper and place in a single layer in the pot. Don't touch them for 6 minutes. Flip and cook 6 minutes more. Scoop out (leaving any fat behind) and store in a dish conveniently placed next to your burner.
  2. Throw the carrot, celery root, and leek into the hot oil and add a healthy pinch of salt (and more oil, if needed). Saute, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove to conveniently placed storage dish.
  3. Last, brown the leeks and garlic in whatever's left in the pan, adding more oil as needed. After about 3 minutes, toss meat, vegetables, and any accumulated juices back into the pan. Add anchovy paste (if using), water, and vinegar. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 40 minutes. Remove lid and simmer 20 minutes more, until spoon tender. Stir in parsley and serve hot!


Let me tell you about chermoula. Chermoula is a Moroccan herb-spice-and-oil mixture rich with garlic, cumin, and fresh coriander. It's used mostly on fish--as both a marinade and a sauce--but can be used to enhance the general deliciousness of so many other dishes. Claudia Roden says that "every town, every family has its own special combination," so it ends up being both handy and adaptable. Seriously, google it. You'll get a lot of variations.

And so we made it last night. Everything seems a little different today. The sun, a little brighter. My husband, a little sweeter. My bike ride to work, a little less freezing. My tastebuds, well, they just want chermoula all the time. On everything.
Ok, maybe I exaggerate, but boy is this stuff good. I can think of so many meats and vegetables that this crazy good condiment would only enhance. Mix up a batch and try it. (You'll need a processor for this one.) Tell me what you use it on.

Pan-Cooked Fish with Chermoula
makes as many filets as you buy; extra sauce will keep in the fridge for a week or so; recipe from Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food

1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp coriander
healthy pinch of chili powder
healthy pinch of salt
scant 1/4 cup lemon juice or wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

1-2 white fish fillets; check the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch guide for good choices in your area
  1. Throw all ingredients (excepting the fish) in a food processor and blend till smooth. I must confess I did not actually measure the oil, so add more as needed to achieve a thick, but still fluid, consistency.
  2. Use half the mixture to marinate the fish for 30 minutes. Reserve the rest for pouring over cooked fillets.
  3. When ready to cook, film a skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high. Place fish in hot skillet and don't touch it for 6-7 minutes. No fidgeting, no stirring. Carefully flip and cook 2-4 minutes on the other side, until fish is flaky. The general rule is about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, so adjust cooking time accordingly. Serve hot, drowned in more chermoula.