Monday, March 30, 2009

Windy Monday Lunch

It has been a crazy week with my friend George visiting from out of town. I woke up relatively early this morning and the apartment was completely silent for what seems like the first time in months. An empty apartment can be a comforting one especially if you want to relax and gather your chi with some solo time. I was also craving a delicious lunch when I woke up this morning; a meal only myself would enjoy after entertaining and serving as tour guide for the majority of the past week. The first dish of my incredibly filling and scrumptious lunch was an inversion of a classic. BLT’s, or bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for those of you who have tragically missed out, are delicious indeed. I initially thought to make BLT’s but wanted an alternative that would grant me the opportunity to use the leftover salad greens that have been accumulating in my fridge. BLT salad sounded like a great idea and so I threw all the familiar faces into a bowl tossed with cider vinaigrette. Believe me it took all I had not to rush out and buy a wedge of Roquefort or Cambozola to crumble on top. Frisee, iceberg, and mixed greens made up the lettuce while bacon and burst tomatoes completed the acronym. I also added some homemade paprika croutons made from a loaf of Pugliese bread tossed with olive oil and smoked paprika. The salad was absolutely delectable with sweet tangy dressing, smoky bacon, and crunchy lettuce.

The second dish I made for my lazy afternoon lunch at home was a tuna and chickpea salad with gremolata. Gremolada is a traditional Italian herb accompaniment to braised meats and seafood dishes made of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest. My father used to make this dish frequently at our country house in France, inspired by a luscious Tuscan salad found in trattorias all over Italy. Tuna partners smashingly with lemon and fresh herbs, which is where I drew my inspiration for the gremolata in this dish. I tried to use ingredients that commonly accompany fish or seafood in Italian, French, and other Mediterranean cuisines. The gremolata in this dish is made with parsley, oregano, mint, capers, roasted red pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt. All of these compliment fish and lend their aroma to seafood dishes perfectly. This is a filling salad chalk full of protein with a bright herbal flavor heralding the arrival of spring. I often cook with fresh herbs, a distinctive feature of my cuisine. Herbs, seasonings, and sauces are what I work with most, paying careful attention to the dynamic between flavors and presentation. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Tuna, Chickpea, And Gremolata Salad
Serves 2

1 19 oz. Can of Chickpeas
1 5 oz. Can of Light Tuna in Olive Oil
1/2 C. Italian Parsley
1/4 C. Oregano
1/4 C. Mint
2 Roasted Red Peppers, fresh or jarred, drained
6-8 Large Caper Berries
Zest and Juice of 1 Lemon
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tsp. Kosher Salt

1. Drain and rinse chickpeas and transfer to a large bowl. Drain tuna well of excess oil and crumble in chunks over chickpeas.
2. Combine remain ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely diced and well combined, resembling pesto.
3. Toss tuna and chickpeas with gremolata mixture, stir well, and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wednesday Night Supper

As I mentioned in my previous post my college buddy George is in town visiting from Los Angeles. We have been on a culinary tear, running wild in a frenzy of gastronomic tourism. Some of the highlights were the Fatty Crab, a magnificent Malaysian place downtown, and Tempo in Park Slope. Brooklyn is a borough that I am discovering slowly but surely, gradually checking out the neighborhoods, restaurants, and bars the city has to offer. George and our other college friend Shawna went to Tempo after a mutual friend suggested it. The restaurant boasted an Italian menu with New American hints, super casual and quaint with a staff insanely attentive to detail. The three of us had a lovely meal and I would definitely go back. The night before our evening out in Park Slope I cooked the second of the dinner parties thrown in George’s honor. The first course was a frisee salad with cara cara orange, powdered hazelnuts, and citrus vinaigrette. Cara cara are a new strain of oranges that are sweeping produce aisles with a floral sweetness and beautiful golden cast.

The second course was a large platter of zucchini with olive oil and mint. I have had variations of this dish many times in Italy and Mediterranean restaurants. Grilled zucchini is a principal component of Italian antipasto plates and Greek cuisine features dishes like fried zucchini with yogurt sauce. I cut very thin slices with my trusty mandoline and then arranged them on a baking dish with a little olive oil. At first I thought to grill them but that would have taken up too much stove space so I broiled them until they were nicely browned. I finished the zucchini with a drizzle of Spanish olive oil, pink Hawaiian sea salt for color and flare, and a sprinkle of fresh mint. The flavors were light and flavorful, with little manipulation of the inherent flavor of the zucchini.

The main course was boneless Rib-eye steak with my version of Chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri is a sauce and marinade for grilled meat originating from Argentina. The sauce is commonly served at Brazilian and other South American restaurants along with huge slices of steak cut by waiters laden with pounds and pounds of beef. The Chimichurri of Argentina is traditionally made from parsley, garlic, vegetable oil, white or red vinegar, and chili flakes with additional spices depending on the chef’s personal or regional tastes. My version consisted of parsley, oregano, tarragon, capers, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and kosher salt mixed in the Cuisinart. My sauce was a bit thicker than the traditional Argentinean one and had more of a Mediterranean kick though the herbal flavor and acidity were there. I pan roasted the steak to medium rare, pink and toothsome, and topped thick slices with Chimichurri sauce. We passed around an additional bowl of the heady sauce to munch with the tender steak. I served some beautifully browned roasted shallots alongside the meat. These roasted shallots are incredibly simple and wonderfully palatable. Just toss whole peeled shallots with a little olive oil and kosher salt and roast in an earthenware dish for about a half hour until crisp and tender.

As those of you following Pomander Saveur know by now, I hardly ever make desserts. The idea of baking or working with sweets slightly terrifies me. I feel that patisserie is best left to the professionals; way too much of an exact science and high margin of error. I rarely eat desserts, which is another reason why I am not inclined to make them. This was a rare exception. I macerated some raspberries and blueberries in aged balsamic and honey to draw out the juices and create a luscious syrup. The yogurt was mixed with maple syrup and a touch of both cinnamon and nutmeg to sweeten and intensify the dessert. I would say this is the first spring dinner of the year; hopefully the weather will agree and let loose the sunshine. The casual supper was a big hit and all the flavors, textures, and tastes were right on par with what I hoped. I think George was impressed and would gladly come back to town to get another meal at my pad. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

College Reunion Dinner

My friend George, who was a principal partner in crime throughout college, was in town visiting this week. This was his first time in New York so needless to say he could not wait to go out and explore the city. I tried to show him the sites that were off the beaten tourist path, granting him an insider view of my favorite parts of the city. I of course privileged food for the week he was visiting. As it turns out his trip revolved largely around the delicious restaurants and bars we wanted to hit. We took a couple huge walks through Central Park and the Financial District and caught a few too many happy hours around town. Between eating and drinking our faces off out and about I decided to cook dinner a couple of nights. George has been eating my food for a long time dating back to our Santa Cruz days so I looked forward to showing him some new tricks I have picked up in the kitchen. George and I were joined by our other college friend Mike, marking a reunion of sorts with plenty of good food and wine. I started us off with a classic French salad of endive, Roquefort, and sherry vinaigrette. This is one of my all-time favorite salads, super simple to prepare and mighty good.

I have been on a pork kick recently so I went with a main course of ancho chile crusted pork tenderloin. Ancho chilies are dried poblanos, a very mild chile pepper originating in the State of Puebla, Mexico. This national pepper is the most popular and features heavily in Mexican cuisine. After being peeled and roasted or dried poblanos become ancho chiles. The ancho I used is very special indeed. It comes courtesy of my very good friend Hope in California. About a month ago I received a gift basket from her full of tasty treats from her farm in Northern California. In addition to the Meyer Lemon relish I have referenced in past posts, I scored a large bag of ancho chilies organically grown and dried at Riverhill Farm. The hand-written translucent bag was tide with a little ribbon and the contents were listed with a cooking tip: “Great ground up in sauces and meat rubs.” I took Hope’s suggestion to heart and prepared a succulent pork dish. I ground three anchos to a fine powder and liberally seasoned a pork tenderloin with kosher salt rubbed well into the meat. I recommend seasoning the meat and letting it sit at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if you must, for about a half hour before cooking. I simply seared the loin on a smoking hot cast iron for about 3 minutes a side and then threw it in a 375-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. The meat was moist and brilliantly spiced; all it needed was a couple of side dishes.

The first of which was inspired by Valerie’s recent trip to Chicago where she ate at a few delectable restaurants including Graham Elliot. I recently picked up the menu she brought back and skimmed through it. Some things sounded better than others but there were a few dishes and flavor combinations that blew me away. One was a striped bass or some other mild fish with creamed watercress. That sounded fantastic and I set to work formulating a recipe to pull it off at home. I sautéed a pound of watercress over medium heat with some garlic and chili flakes then tossed in a splash of heavy cream, a pad of sweet butter, and a handful of Asiago cheese. All in all it worked out pretty well, a creamy dish reminiscent of braising greens like kale or chard with a pepperycrunch. The second side dish was a simple one; steamed Russian banana potatoes with sweet butter and herbs. I used Kerry Gold Irish butter, my preferred butter at the moment, melted with chopped tarragon, parsley, and chives. This tasty potato dish is perfect to welcome spring and goes excellently with lamb, pork, or beef. My dinner with George and Mike was a total success and George could understand why I throw so many dinner parties. This meal was truly delicious and I was proud to have served it. I also welcomed the company and the opportunity to sit and eat with some good friends. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sweet Paprika And Goulash

I have always wanted to tour around Eastern Europe checking out the countries that made up the former Soviet Union. This past summer I visited one such country, Hungary. I spent a week in Budapest at the end of august with a couple of my French friends. I had already spent three months studying in Paris and welcomed the opportunity to travel outside of France. Budapest is a wonderfully novel city with ornate though stern Russian architecture, a tragic national history, unique cuisine, and jolly populace. We fell in love with unicum the national liquor and potent spirit composed of over a hundred herbs and spices. I ordered one at almost every bar we went to served ice cold and taken in shot form with a powerful medicinal kick. At 200 forints it was good prize for a stiff drink. I have actually heard that unicum is sold at a famous bar near Wall Street at a whopping $50 per shot. My friends and I ate virtually all of our meals outside of the hotel and had a challenge to see which one of us could eat the most authentic Hungarian dishes. I pride myself that I won our little competition because I genuinely tried to experience both Buda and Pest, the respective sides of the river, like a local. I ate all the weird cakes and pies with smoked fish of all kinds, stews and spaetzle dishes, and stuffed cabbage. As we went around Budapest we remarked early on that nearly every storefront had paprika on offer and every restaurant whether Italian or Austrian, French or Chinese served goulash.

Goulash is a Hungarian staple; a stew or soup of beef, onions, and peppers that is both filling and delicious. Needless to say that I ate my fill of goulash on my trip through Budapest and interestingly each restaurant served its own variation though each was chalk full of paprika. Paprika is a traditional Eastern European spice. Some were thinner than others with small bits of beef shredded into the broth, others had a lot of vegetables peppered throughout, and some used lamb or veal. The single commonality in the various goulashes we tried was the use of paprika; ground dried red or green bell peppers. The spice is commonly associated with Hungarian cuisine and comes sweet, spicy, or smoked to add vibrant color and flavor to dishes. Paprika is a popular ingredient in a range of national cuisines principally to season and color rice, stews, and soups, like goulash. Ever since our trip together, my friends and I have been meaning to have a Hungarian evening replicating the dishes and drinks we had there. The other night I was craving goulash and after a bit of research through my cookbooks and magazines I found three recipes that looked authentic enough. I opted for the cook’s illustrated recipe from the February issue; a hearty stew of chuck eye roast, sliced onions, tomatoes, carrots, and tons of fresh paprika.

The key to goulash, and other Hungarian dishes for that matter is fresh sweet paprika, not a dated batch that has been lingering in the pantry for years. The smokiness and deep red color imparted by the paprika gives goulash its authentic taste. I find that a good goulash tastes a bit like a meaty bowl of chili with tons of onion and pepper flavors which spices up the otherwise bland cut of meat. Normally Hungarians serve goulash in a large bowl accompanied by bread, potatoes, cabbage, egg noodles, or spaetzle. I served mine with orchietta, which is what I had in my pantry, and the ear shaped noodles were reminiscent of Eastern European spaetzle. Now that I have researched and tested some goulash recipes, it is time to invite my friends over and recreate the magical meals we shared in Budapest. All in all it was a wonderful trip and we ate very well despite claims that Hungarian food is lousy. I just think their cuisine gets a bad rap and that tourists are generally under appreciative or perhaps hesitant to indulge in unique local cuisine. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

AB's Pancakes

There is really nothing better than a crisp golden pancake in the morning after a long night of boozing. I woke up yesterday morning with a wicked craving for pancakes and even recall dreaming about them as I slipped into a deep slumber after bar hopping with friends. I have experimented in the past with packaged pancake mixes of various styles and flavors though nothing compares to a homemade buttermilk pancake. The recipe I use comes courtesy of Alton Brown, the Food Network personality famous for the “Good Eats” series. I owe my fascination with all things gastronomic largely to the Food Network, one of the few channels I watched religiously growing up. While other kids were watching cartoons and local sports, I was at home in the TV room watching cooking shows. I remember the old days before the Food Network established itself as a predominant channel where the low budget programming could only fill a six-hour slot that ran on a continuous loop throughout the day. Early Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Alton Brown were my favorites and I never missed an episode of their shows. His “instant pancakes” recipe leads to the best pancakes I have ever eaten, churning out consistent results each and every time. I prepared a batch to eat in front of the window and enjoy a bit of quiet time to nurse my hangover. The recipe is available online and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a stack of airy pancakes with melted butter and good maple syrup for breakfast. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Orso: Memories Of A Trattoria

I would say the single greatest influence over my love of food and cooking is my duel citizenship and multicultural upbringing. Growing up between Los Angeles and Paris gave me the opportunity to experience two very different food cultures and I have done my fair share of eating in some of the finest restaurants both cities have to offer. My family and I had a few spots around Los Angeles that we ate at frequently in the eighteen plus years I spent in the city. Our standards included Café Angeli on Melrose, Mandarette and Itacho on Beverly, and Orso on Third St. We ate at Orso at least twice a month because the food was delicious and my mother had long been close with the Manager/Maître d’. Orso Los Angeles and their sister restaurant in New York City boast rustic, great tasting Italian food with a rotating list of seasonal specials that are out of this world. The service is tratorria style; uncomplicated and relatively informal with an exclusively Italian wine list. As I have mentioned before I am obsessed with Italian food, a covert passion since my French roots mean that I have to privilege the Francophonic culinary canon. One day recently I found myself daydreaming about Orso, particularly my favorite dish that I always ordered growing up. I typically started with a Caesar or radicchio salad and then moved on to my top favorite, the orchietta with sausage and broccoli raab. When I got home later that evening after seeing Coraline, an adorable though incredibly strange film, I decided to cook an ode to Orso. The first dish was a “red salad” of radicchio, roasted beets, and crumbled Gorgonzola with a Dijon mustard and Balsamic vinaigrette. A tasty though bitter salad that I rarely make because it seems so few people fancy radicchio but I happen to love it and welcome the opportunity to eat it.

The main course was a recreation of my favorite orchietta dish consisting of sweet Italian pork sausage and the ear-shaped pasta that I rarely cook with. This recipe is incredibly simple and really quite tasty with a side salad and glass of Chianti. For my home variation I substituted mustard greens instead of broccoli raab, choosing to go for greens with a bit more peppery bite to complement the sweet sausage. Good olive oil, a bit of grated Asiago cheese, and some red chili flakes round out this delicious pasta dish which I have eaten more times than I like to admit. Overall my ode to Orso, the Los Angeles tratorria of my youth, turned out very well and I satisfied my craving for the time being though I think this calls for a trip out to Los Angles. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Vegetarianism, Stout Floats, and Shooters

The title pretty much sums up a recent night I passed with Valerie and Jessica at my apartment. I cooked us up a vegetarian meal driven mainly by fresh vegetables purchased from The West Side market and Branzini’s, two organic specialty grocers on the Upper West Side. We drank a number of interesting drinks throughout the night, which needless to say ended in a deep food and alcohol induced coma. Whenever Jessica and I hang out we experiment with drinks, especially if good food is involved. Whether creating strange drinks, discovering cocktail and food pairings, or comparing small batch bourbons, Jessica and I have a way with the sauce. I felt that a meal consisting of well cooked vegetables dressed with flavorful sauces would supplement the damage we were doing to our livers. The first course was a beet carpaccio, a chance to test my new fancy mandoline (see “Jamming On My Mandoline.”) I sliced roasted red beets super thin and arranged them on a huge circular platter with yogurt-balsamic dressing and dill. It was an earthy and creamy dish that went amazingly with the white wine we were drinking courtesy of Jessica.

The second dish was a French classic that I have probably eaten a thousand times in my life, boiled new potatoes with sweet butter and chopped herbs. In this case I steamed the potatoes and added a generous pad of sweet butter, chopped tarragon, and a liberal sprinkle of salt and black pepper. These potatoes are the ideal counterpart to virtually any main course whether meat, poultry, seafood, or wild game. Try it and I guarantee you will be making them again and again.

The third vegetarian dish of the night was an endive, radicchio, and mixed green salad with blue cheese. I love to combine different types of greens and fresh herbs in my salads and this was no exception. I tossed the greens with some crumbled Gorgonzola and a Dijon mustard, jerez sherry vinegar, and olive oil vinaigrette. Endive and blue cheese is a match made in heaven and the bitterness of the radicchio cut through the creaminess nicely. After the three dishes were eaten and we relaxed for a few minutes finishing our wine, we passed onto dessert or after dinner cocktail.

Valerie and I have seen stout floats on a couple of menus around the city and have wanted to try one though we never seem to have the courage. Valerie suggested that we try to whip them up at home and I was thrilled by the idea. She bought bottled Guinness and vanilla ice cream and set to work with an ice cream scoop and three chilled pint glasses. The stout float is really as simple as it sounds; pour stout beer over two scoops of ice cream and enjoy. The digestif or nightcap if you will was tequila shots with lemon and salt. This Mexican delight, of Cuervo gold unfortunately, turned into three or four and the rest is history. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Chicken Test

People that love to cook and eat scrumptious food know that inspiration can pop out of nowhere at completely random times. Whether a sudden craving or recipe idea, I use this gastronomic insight as a stepping stone for future meals. The other day I was finishing up at work and suddenly thought of chicken; a tender braised bird flavored with tons of lemon and garlic. After I envisioned the dish and could practically taste it already the gustatory plan for the night had been sealed. I have never braised a chicken, it just seemed like a good idea and I set to work trying to figure out how it could be done. I often preach experimentation in the kitchen and my braised chicken should attest to this cavalier approach to food and cooking. One must be adventurous in the kitchen like all great chefs who periodically sit down in their ornate kitchens to brainstorm, laboriously crafting delicious dishes from start to finish. All good food starts from an inventive concept brought to life through the skill, creativity, and determination of the cook. From my past experiences it was clear to me that lemons, garlic, and tarragon pair excellently with chicken and instead of roasting in traditional fashion I decided to braise it. I hoped this technique would retain all the flavor of the chicken, render it delicately tender, and make it powerfully tasty all at once. I feel this dish highlights the crux of my culinary philosophy that food is all about enjoying yourself. To me the kitchen is an extension of that belief, a sort of improvisational laboratory where culinary dreams, wacky ideas, and yearnings are carried out. I urge you home cooks and burgeoning chefs to cook through your mind, heart, and soul to just get in there and make whatever you think sounds or tastes good. My braised chicken was a resounding success that I attribute to the good homemade vegetable stock and Meyer lemons I used. All it took was a little imagination, some basic kitchen know how, and the confidence to try something I had never tried before. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Lemony Braised Chicken
Serves 5

1 Whole Chicken (1 1/2 – 2 lbs.)

1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, thinly sliced
1 Large Lemon, thinly sliced
8 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 C. Tarragon Leaves, roughly chopped
3 C. Quality Stock (Chicken or Vegetable)
1 Tbs. Salted Butter
Salt & Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove gizzards from chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sauté onions for 5-8 minutes until translucent, add garlic and heat until fragrant.

3. Make an even layer of the onion mixture and rest chicken on top. Gently pour stock into the pot about half way up the chicken. Arrange lemon slices and tarragon leaves around and on top of the bird.

4. Bring the pot to a boil and cover with aluminum foil if necessary to ensure a tight fitting lid. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on the size of the chicken.

5. Remove the pot from the oven and set to broil. Uncover and baste chicken evenly with butter. Transfer chicken to the oven and broil for about 15-20 minutes until a crisp brown crust has formed.

6. Transfer chicken as carefully as possible to a deep platter and strain solids from the pot. Arrange cooked onions, lemon, and tarragon around the chicken and tent with aluminum foil. Set cooking liquid over high heat and reduce for about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken and serve immediately.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Iron Chef Monday: Greenmarket!

Some of the many perks of having my mother Dorothy live upstate are the access to beautiful farmland, amazing local ingredients, and far cheaper groceries. My mother’s picturesque town in the Catskills is peppered with farms and livestock. The local farmer’s market is charmingly tiny with tons of tasty things grown or produced by members of the community. Although the farmer’s market and local farming operations essentially die down for most of the winter, the price of food is nevertheless cheaper upstate. Urban inflation is clearly a factor when living in big cities and New York City is certainly no exception. I am always amazed by how much cheaper produce, dairy goods, and meat are at the Price Chopper, my mother’s preferred supermarket. She teaches two days a week down in the city during the spring term and has thankfully established a routine of shopping upstate and driving down her purchases. These culinary runs usually include fresh produce, an animal protein of some sort, home baked cookies or pastries, and a dozen eggs hatched by her chickens. This past Sunday Dorothy arrived at the apartment with a package of amazing bacon and tons of fresh vegetables that I promptly set to work preparing into a series of gustatory delights. The first dish was steamed asparagus with sauce gribiche: a French emulsified sauce made with cooked egg yolks and tons of fresh herbs traditionally served to accompany veal head. This is one of my mom’s signature sauces that goes excellently with steamed or boiled vegetables and Alice Waters often serves it alongside charcuterie and cold appetizers at Chez Panisse.

The second dish was creamed leeks. I am obsessed with leeks and have yet to find a recipe or manner of cooking them that I don’t like. They have such a delicate sweet oniony flavor that lends itself well to soups and stocks though they can also be served solo. I sautéed some minced onions and garlic in a hot pan for a couple of minutes before adding the sliced leeks, well washed and drained beforehand. After the leeks had cooked through I added a splash of heavy cream, a generous handful of grated pecorino, and some black pepper until the sauce thickened. This is a truly tasty dish that I recommend serving with a crusty loaf to soak up the cheesy sauce.

The third dish prepared from fresh produce driven down from upstate was bacon braised kale and broccoli rapini. I know it this point it seems like I eat way too much kale, but I see it as a positive character trait. Kale and other bitter greens are really good to eat and super good for you, two important things when choosing ingredients to cook with or incorporate into our diets. Bitter greens are fast becoming my go-to vegetable side, something I just love to cook with, especially during the winter season when little else is available at local organic grocers or farmer’s markets. For these bacon braised greens, render four strips of smoked bacon chopped into thin strips in a Dutch oven until slightly crispy and then add minced onion and garlic. After a couple of minutes add your greens of choice and wilt down. Add a 1/2 cup of stock (chicken or vegetable works best) and quickly cover the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes then remove the lid and cook another 5-8 minutes until all of the cooking liquid has been evaporated. This is a wonderful side dish that is full of bacon flavor, a great way to make bitter greens. After driving down from the country with shopping bags in tow I of course rewarded my mother with a glass of wine and a delicious vegetable meal. It really is a great deal to receive cheaper groceries once a week which grants me the opportunity to cook on Sunday nights when she gets into town. It is kind of a fun challenge as well because I never know what is going to come out of those shopping bags, sort of my weekly iron chef challenge. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow Day Sandwich

Overall snowstorms get mixed reviews; they are either welcomed or bitterly chastised. There are certainly cons to big snowstorms what with public transportation complications and difficulty walking down the icy streets. Another major downside to the snow is that it heralds low temperatures and generally nasty conditions. Coming from California, this is often enough an unwelcome aspect of living on the East coast. However, there are numerous pros to blustery winter conditions as well like sledding, time off from school, and an excuse to hang around indoors. To the sentimentalists and novices for whom the snow is still a novelty, there is also the beauty of a descending palette of whites and grays marring the urban landscape. I think snowstorms are ideal for taking a long walk, well bundled of course, through Central Park. There are usually tons of families sledding every little bunny hill and black diamond to be found among the park’s natural avenues. Snowstorms also grant the opportunity, or excuse depending on how you look at it, to lounge around indoors. What a perfect time to read a book, watch a movie, file your taxes, and just chill. It is also a good time to have a warm bowl of soup or a sandwich to laze around and eat.

BLTs, grilled cheese, and tomato soup are my usual go to rainy or snowy day classics but this afternoon I decided to mix it up a little and get fancy. I threw together a Bresaola (air-dried salted beef aged about 2-3 months), arugula, and cave-aged Gruyere sandwich. I had a wheat dinner roll leftover from the night before which I cut in half, toasted, and smeared with mustard and Jerez vinaigrette. I piled on four paper-thin slices of Bresaola, some arugula leaves, and a few slices of Gruyere to make a gorgeous looking sandwich. The nuttiness of the cheese, peppery bite of the salad, and sweet musty taste of the meat mingled excellently on the warm roll. I ate the sandwich with a side salad of arugula tossed with the leftover vinaigrette and a tall glass of orange juice. Now its time to kick it by the window with the cat and a good pulp mystery novel, I’m thinking Chandler. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Pasta Con Cavolo E Funghi

Is there anything better than a big bowl of pasta with a crusty loaf of bread, a green salad, and a glass of red wine? There are few pleasures in life so easily assembled yet so exquisite. After all how often does one throw together a pot of boiling water and crack a jar of prepared sauce for a quick meal with the aforementioned accoutrements. I eat pasta at least five times a month, sometimes more if I am trying to stretch the dollar or have been mostly eating solo. Last night I had a craving for one such meal and made a tasty pasta dish for Mike, my mother, and our friend Andrea. My credo is that it is best to cook seasonally and improvise with ingredients that call out from the farmer’s market or grocery aisles. Last night’s dinner adhered to this criteria; featuring kale and cremini mushrooms, two ingredients that reflect the winter season. I rarely make cream sauces except when I cook classic French bistro fare but for some reason last night I was feeling an Alfredo variant. If you like kale you are going to love this dish and will want to make it again and again. I find it is best to prepare the two vegetables separately then make the sauce, assembling everything at the end. I choose Gemelli noodles for this particular dish but any other small tubular or curly pasta will do. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Pasta Con Cavolo E Funghi
Gemelli With Kale And Cremini Mushrooms
Serves 5

For Kale:

1 tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Yellow Onion, diced small
2 Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp. Red Chili Flakes
1 lb. Kale, fibrous ribs removed and roughly chopped
1 Cup Water
1/4 tsp. Salt

For Mushrooms:

1 tsp. Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. Cremini Mushrooms, stems removed and diced into 1/4 pieces
1/4 tsp. Salt

For Pasta & Sauce:

1 lb. Gemelli Pasta
1 tsp. Olive Oil
1/8 tsp. All Purpose Flour
1/2 Yellow Onion, minced
1 Garlic Clove, pressed
1 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
Salt & Black Pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until translucent, 4-5 mins. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Toss in half of the kale and cook down until volume has reduced. Incorporate the second bunch of kale along with water and salt. Cover immediately and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 20 mins stirring occasionally. Remove lid and cook until all remaining water has evaporated, 10-12 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium high heat until shimmering, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and salt and cook until all water has been leached out and evaporated, 10-12 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Bring 4-6 quarts of salted water to a boil over high heat. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add flour and cook until lightly browned and smooth stirring frequently, 3-5 mins. Incorporate onions and cook another 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss in kale, mushrooms, and heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until
al dente, 11-12 mins. Cook and drain pasta, add directly to sauce, stir in parmesan, and cook for 2 mins until all ingredients are well incorporated. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.