Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mama Llama's Potato Salad

Mama Llama's Potato SaladMy good friend Matty O'Food lives all the way out in Santa Cruz, CA. We keep in touch daily via AIM. Our conversations can be a couple sentences long, or ramble on for hours. It's a great way to stay connected over long distances. Our two most common topics of conversation are golf and - wait for it - food. He passed along his mother's potato salad recipe for posting on this here blog thingy. I would try to explain the Mama Llama moniker, but it's a long story interesting only to those involved. Let's just say hand puppets are involved, and leave it there.
Mama Llama is an elementary school principal in Pasadena, CA. She is one of the most serene people I've ever come across; the stuff of children's books. I wish she'd been my principal in school. She's also a really terrific cook. When Matty and I lived in Los Angeles, we got plenty of her home cooking on the weekends, and I've envied her skills for years.
Mama Llama's Potato Salad
  • 1 lb small red new potatoes
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 6 oz peas, fresh or frozen
  • ½ lb bacon
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
Here are the Mama Llama's instructions in her own hand:
Boil potatoes until tender; cut in quarters. Cut bacon and cook until crisp, I like lots! Dice green onions. Reserve some bacon, onions, and peas for a garnish. Toss together potatoes, peas, green onions, and bacon. Gently mix in sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. Place artistically in a bowl and garnish with reserved bacon, green onions, and peas. This is enough for four as a side! (I think!) I always do it by feel and look!
See, simple is always best, isn't it?
Boiling new potatoesBacon crisping in sauté pan
I was gonna go picnic style and make hotdogs, but my inner snob got the better of me. Instead, I grilled some sweet Italian sausages and served them with a fat dollop of brown spicy mustard on the side. A grown up picnic in the middle of the week.
Grilled sweet Italian sausagesMama Llama's potato salad with grilled sweet Italian sausages
The Llama family has an aversion to all things mayonnaise. It's my opinion that they've never had a good homemade one. Nevertheless, I cut Mama Llama's 1 cup of sour cream with a 50/50 ratio of sour cream and tangy Greek yogurt. The consistency is a little creamier and the flavor just a bit more complex. Anyone with a frayed copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook knows intuitively how well green onion and sour cream go together, and the old adage of Another Meal Made Better With Bacon couldn't be more aptly applied than here.
Yes, another simple feast from your trusty neighborhood Blog O. Food. And to think, we haven't really gotten into the thick of things yet.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Carnitas Tacos

Natalya Nesterova - "Sand Castles"When I was growing up, I would bug my parents to take me to the beach every weekend. I just always wanted to be in the water. Whenever I was successful in convincing them to make the trip, my stepmother would braise pork the night before for lunch the next day. She'd stuff shredded meat, refried beans and salsa into heated flour tortillas and wrap them tighter than any machine could ever hope to achieve. On the big day, I would body surf for hours, duck diving the bigger waves, while my dad would float on his back just beyond the swell, the only things visible being his face, belly and toes. He reminded me of a big log in the water, perfectly horizontal. When Anita could convince me to get out of the water for lunch, saltwater dripping from my sinuses, burritos warmed by the sun would be waiting. Nothing tasted better than her pork. I find myself thinking of her excellent cooking and wishing I had paid just a little more attention while she was still alive.
So this weekend, with picnic baskets on every square inch of beach sand and park grass, I took a stab an replicating my stepmother's kitchen. You've all seem me braise. This time I pulled out all the stops. I didn't stop with slow cooked pork roast though. I shredded the meat and crisped it through on a skillet before wrapping in a soft warm corn tortilla with a dollop of sour cream and a roasted spring onion. Anita, I think, would have been proud.
Searing pork roastSweating onions and dried chilies
Spices added to softened onionsPork roast nestled in braising liquid, onions and tomatoes
Braising 101: Sear meat on all sides, then remove from pot. Reduce heat and sweat onions, garlic and dried chilies until just starting to caramelize. Add  spices: chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Return meat to the Dutch oven and add enough cooking liquid to come half way up the sides of the roast. For a rich full flavor I added red wine, chicken broth and a can of whole tomatoes in their juice. Cover and simmer away until meat separates easily.
Quick fry shredded pork for a crispy textureHeat corn tortillas on a grill
Develop sear marks onto whole green onionsCarnitas tacos
I braised my pork until there was almost no liquid left in the pot. I then strained the meat and reserved what remained of the reduced sauce. I let the sauce cool and skimmed off the layer of oil that rose to the top. The remaining reduction I used in a sauté pan when I crisped up my shredded pork. As the pork got crispy, I heated tortillas and seared whole spring onions. The tacos were simplicity themselves: meat, onion, a little sour cream. The crust on the tender pork lent a crunchy texture. The sauce reduction was rich, complex and delicious. The only thing better than getting to eat these tacos is sharing them with friends. So come on over!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Mac Fusilli-N-Cheese

Edouard Manet - "The Picnic"Before moving along to our favorite topic food, and without getting too sanctimonious, I don't think it inappropriate to remind you, my gentle readers, why we have a Memorial Day weekend in the first place. Memorial Day was originally conceived to venerate Union soldiers killed during the American Civil War. Back then it was known as Decoration Day. After WWI, the commemoration was expanded to recognize American casualties of any war or military action. Traditionally, flags are flown at half-staff until noon, graves at national cemeteries are marked with American flags, and there is a moment of remembrance at 3:00pm local time. These days, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer and is celebrated with picnics, barbecues and the Indy 500. But pockets of sober reflection still survive. I was in the town of Orient, Long Island one Memorial Day weekend when the villagers held a simple parade and placed a wreath at the foot of a monument commemorating  their fallen sons and daughters. It was the most modest of ceremonies I had ever witnessed, and it humbled me to my core. These days - in my dotage - I take time to demonstrate my gratitude for our liberties and to the young men and women who fight to protect them, whether with beers for sailors at Yankee Stadium during Fleet Week (I love a man in a uniform!), or sitting at attention at the end of The News Hour broadcast when they list the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope never again to take their sacrifice for granted. 
But one cannot remain morose and depressing all day; that's what Republicans are always accusing Democrats of doing. Life is for the living and to truly honor the ultimate sacrifice, one must live to the fullest. That means lots of America's favorite side dishes to go with all those hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecued chicken. And what's more American than macaroni and cheese? As American as French fries!
Macaroni & cheese
Baked Mac-N-Cheese
  • 1 lb pasta noodle
  • 3 slices day-old bread
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cans evaporated milk
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
  • ¾ cup Monterey jack cheese (grated)
  • ¾ cup Gruyère cheese (grated)
Start by cooking pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. I didn't have macaroni, so substituted fusilli pasta. I liked the texture even better, but there will always be some purist nut job out there who thinks I'm a heretic. So be it. Cook the pasta to just al dente, but no further. You want the noodles slightly undercooked, as they will continue to soften with the cheese sauce in the oven.
Melt 2 Tbsp unsalted butterRun day-old bread through a food processor
Next make a topping for the mac-n-cheese by chopping bread (I used day-old sourdough), 2 Tbsp melted butter and two heaping Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Set the mixture aside.
Start a roux with 2 Tbsp unsalted butter and all purpose flourAdd seasonings to thicken white sauce
Gradual stir in grated cheesesStir sauce until cheese is completely melted
Reserve about ½ cup of pasta water before draining and rinsing the cooked pasta. The excess starch on the pasta will gum up the finished dish, so rinse away, ignoring the wails of your Italian grandmothers. In the same pot as the pasta boiled, start a roux with 2 Tbsp of flour in the remaining 2 Tbsp of melted butter. Cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of the "raw" taste of the flour. Gradually whisk in two cans of evaporated milk and bring to a simmer. Add the hot sauce (I put in six heavy dashes for medium heat) and spices, and slowly stir in the grated cheeses, melting completely. Add the drained pasta and a little of the reserved pasta water. You're looking for a fluid, but not runny consistency to your macaroni.
Pour pasta mixture into a baking dishTop pasta with bread crumbs
Pour the pasta/cheese mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and top with the bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes in a pre-heated 350° oven. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes once the dish is removed from the oven. This will allow the mac-n-cheese to set and prevent you from blistering the roof of your mouth when you shovel noodles and cheese into it.
Macaroni & cheese
Using multiple cheeses adds complexity to my mac-n-cheese. There are different cheeses for everyone's tastes. I like the tanginess of Gruyère over American cheese. You might like a milder Swiss cheese, Havarti or even Jarlsberg. It's all up to you. Play with your recipes until you discover something you really like, and then start a blog to brag about it.
Summer is officially here with lots of outdoor eating and one dish meals. Enjoy new and old family favorites this season and check back here often for ideas and tips.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Meat Pops

Well, after Natalie's delicious lamb chops yesterday, I was feeling quite deprived. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong day for a restless craving. Or had I? I skipped out of work early for nine holes of golf and by the time I got home the butcher would be closed. Trader Joe's, however, is open late. I picked up a rack of lamb, TJ's own blend of Israeli couscous, orzo and red quinoa, and frozen vegetables. I was home and at the table in under an hour. I don't see it as cheating. TJ's sells a superior product. They're conscientious and look for goods that are free of additives and artificial ingredients. And besides, I am not a true believer; death to all extremists is my motto.
Trader Joe's Harvest GrainsThe lamb went into a 350° pre-heated oven for 25 minutes (for medium-rare chops). Not one to leave well enough alone, I spruced up the starch with a little heat from dried chilies. I sweated chopped chilies for about a minute in about a ½ tsp of olive oil, then followed directions on the package for the rest of the cooking. Once the lamb came out of the oven and was resting, I sautéed the vegetables in a pan with a little oil for about 6 minutes, sliced the lamb and arranged everything on a serving platter and documented the meal for posterity. Start to finish: 30 minutes, tops. Tucked away in the wine cave was one last bottle of Storrs Petit Syrah. Craving satisfied.
Sweat the dry chilies
Add cooking liquid (chicken broth)
Bring to a boil
Add grains, cover and simmer
Sauté frozen vegetables 5 minutes before serving time.
Medium-rare rack of lamb
Lamb chops with mixed vegetables and grain blend
A meal fit for a bachelor
We confirmed bachelors often cook for one. It doesn't have to be takeout or come with instructions to "fold back foil to reveal tater tots". Nor do you have to dirty every dish in the kitchen. Deprivation is for the unimaginative or the criminally lazy.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Mon Petit Café

Mon Petite Café logoYesterday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art re-opened part of the American Wing including the Charles Engelhard Court and all the period rooms. My loyal pal Natalie and I spent and hour or so wandering around looking at old favorites and new surprises. I spent most my time ogling in wonder at Tiffany glass tile. Perfection.
No outing with Natalie would be complete without a good supper. We were supposed to go to the David Burke Townhouse, a very posh 1930s space, but I was woefully underdressed. Instead, we ended up at another favorite bistro, Mon Petit Café. I used to go there frequently when the NYFOS series were held in the Danny Kaye theater at Hunter College. Once NYFOS moved to Merkin Hall, well... let's just say the UES is not really in my tax bracket. It was nice to get back to the bistro after many months. It was even better than I remembered it. Cozy, understated, an attentive staff, and perfectly prepared meals. Natalie, of course, was charmed. She thinks I'm some sort of bistro savant, when actually all I care for is a full belly.
Believe it or not, but Mon Petit Café is owned and operated by honest-to-goodness French people! It has been in the family for 24 years, and it shows. There is real attention to every detail from the country decor to the caramelization on the apple tart. Owner Alessandra Mac Carthy takes special care that every diner, from newbies to old timers, are given the VIP treatment. Mon Petit Café has updated all the French bistro classics and put a personal spin on the staples of a nation.
Hors-d'Oeuvres are dependable and whet the appetite. Mussels, snails and onion soup are rounded out with a smooth, delicious foie gras mousse, and an indulgent Camembert fondue served in a little cast iron skillet. I can recommend both. Entrées include a perfectly tender coq au vin, a really slow-cooked boeuf Bourguignon, and one of the best mushroom ravioli dishes I've ever been served.
Salade de Frisée aux LardonsTerrine de Campagne
I was able to convince Natalie not to get moules frites, for once; although she did begin the meal with her customary Kir cocktail. She started with a Salade de Frisée aux Lardons. The bacon pieces were generous and meaty, the egg perfect cooked. I had the Terrine de Campagne, a rustic pork pâté of just the right texture. It was spotted with crushed pepper corns within and came with plenty of toasted baguette and cornichons.
Côtes d'AgneauMagret de Canard au Coulis de Framboise
The Tuesday special was Côtes d'Agneau, or lamb chops. Natalie ordered medium-rare, and the hefty chops were served a textbook pink in the center. I wanted something in the same vein and spied the Magret de Canard au Coulis de Framboise, or roasted duck breast on the menu and just knew the chef was gonna hit it out of the park. Actually, I think it is their signature dish if such a thing is possible with their expertly realized menu. I too asked for medium-rare and the photo speaks for itself. The raspberry coulis acted as marriage counselor between foul and starch. D-licious, and curiously enough, a full belly!
Daily specials boardMon Petite Café interior
Mon Petit Café is located at the corner of 62nd and Lexington on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They offer a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. There is also a prix-fixe brunch menu on the weekend.
Thanks for taking the time, and bon appeptit! - Blog O. Food

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Making Hygge

Danish FlagDid I mention our boy Whogus is half-Danish? His mother was a Dane practicing nursing here in the States when she met Whogus's father, a physician. While growing up, Whogus spent a considerable amount of time in Denmark and came away with, shall we say, a continental outlook on life. I learned a little about his childhood summers in Denmark proof reading his college English compositions. It sounded magical. After university, when Whogus and I shared a flat in San Francisco, we spent a lot of time at his parents' house on the peninsula. His Mor Else liked my table manners and skills with a knife. I accepted invitations to their summerhouse in Denmark where I got crash courses in Danish language and culture.
Hygge (roughly pronounced who-geh) is a Danish word that doesn't readily translate into English. The closest word is cozy or coziness. But that doesn't really do the word justice. Better put, it's the creation of a comfy, intimate mood or atmosphere. This can be for one person or a group. I always thought fellowship was a more apt term, especially in the context in which I first heard the word. It was at the tail end of a most excellent stay on the island when another houseguest mentioned that we had made a fine hygge. After his definition, I knew just what he meant. We had lived simply, yet fully. Meals were shared communally, games were played late into the night, exploration went on all day long. It was the most filial of love fests.
Breaking bread together is a very Danish thing to do. Danes love to gather round the table, and when they do, a meal can go on for hours. There is always akvavit - which the Danish call schnapps, herring, a meat course, strong cheese, beer, and more schnapps. They serve a lovely liver pâté dish that I’ve been trying to perfect in preparation for an upcoming visit later this summer. Here is one variation based on a recipe on RecipeZaar.
Pork liver and suet
Danish Pork Liver Pâté
  • 16 oz pork or calf liver
  • 10 oz suet (pork fat)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 anchovies
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup light cream
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
Chop liver, suet, onion and anchovy until very fineRun liver, pork fat, onion and anchovies through a meat grinder or food processor until the mixture is very fine.
Add flour, liquid and seasoningsBlend in the flour, cream, eggs and seasonings.
Spoon mixture into a loaf panPour mixture into a buttered loaf pan. Put loaf pan in a water bath and bake in a 350° oven for 60 minutes.
Bake in a water bath for 1 hour. Let cool completelyLet finished pâté cool completely before removing from mold.
Serve slices chilled or at room temperatureServe chilled or at room temperature on good black bread or rye with pickled cucumbers, red beets, fried mushrooms and bacon.
Even though it's been 10 years since my  last visit to Denmark, I've imported hygge to this country and put it into practice whenever good friends are gathered in one place. Make the tradition one of you own!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food