Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Variations on a Theme

The Lone Ranger and I accepted an invitation to Miami from my old friends GBF & the Sweet Baboo for Thanksgiving. We were assured of balmy weather, golfies, trips to South Beach, and afternoon dips in their inviting swimming pool. Who could refuse, right? Our trip, however, coincided with Homeland Security's crackdown on underwear bombers, and flip flop highjackers. I know this is gonna put people off, but the whole airport safety program is an exercise in futility. It's the mere pretense of protection, going nowhere near far enough in actually stopping acts of terrorism; it only manages to irritate the traveling public, causing them to muse about becoming terrorists themselves. The real aim is to cover the ass of every ineffectual politician in Washington, allowing them to appear to take "the war on terrorism" seriously. Well, we managed to trigger some subconscious alarm in an overeager behaviorist working for jetBlue, who tipped off the TSA agents that we were prime candidates for thorough pat downs and carry-on luggage inspections. The Lone Ranger blamed me, for refusing to acknowledge this imbecile's vacuous greetings as we approached the X-ray machines (I hate talking to strangers, especially cheerful ones). I, in self defense, blamed the unchecked toxins whooshing around his, the behaviorist's, moronic brain. Whatever the actual reason, we endured 30 minutes of probing and prodding before being cleared for take-off. Afterwards, I was in desperate need of alcohol and nicotine, but was deprived of both thanks to LaGuardia's lamentably inadequate forethought and design. Instead, I consoled myself with spontaneous consumption of culinary eye candy at the diminutive yet formidable news stand. That, and my trusty iPod, were the only things saving me from a manslaughter charge.
Risotto ai funghi e nocciole - adapted from La Cucina Italiana
  • ½ cup hazelnuts
  • 4 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
    plus more for serving
  • 2 small shallots
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2½ cups Vialone Nano rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbsp hazelnut oil
  • 2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Spread nuts on a baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and lightly golden, 10-12 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Roughly chop in a food processor.
Reconstitute mushrooms by soaking in very hot water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Strain through a sieve, reserving liquid. Chop roughly and toss with parsley and a generous pinch of salt & pepper; set aside.
In a heavy, large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, half of the nuts and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is lightly toasted, about 5 minutes more; reduce heat to medium-low.
Add wine and cook until it is mostly absorbed, then add 1 cup reserved mushroom liquid and cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed, 5-7 minutes. Add ½ cup more of liquid and cook, stirring, until mostly absorbed. In ½ cupfuls, add remaining mushroom liquid, stirring until each addition is mostly absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you'll move over to the vegetable broth once all the reserved mushroom liquid is used. You may have broth left over.).
Stir in half of the reserved mushrooms, then add 1 tablespoon hazelnut oil and the cheese; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a small bowl, toss together remaining mushrooms and hazelnuts. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon hazelnut oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Serve risotto on a large platter topped with extra mushroom & nut mixture.
This blog post is labeled "comfort food" for good reason. My risotto consoled. Nutty, earthy, salty and savory, each forkful was a respite. The preparation alone was enough to wash away the bad taste of that last airport experience. Save for an obligatory visit to family on the west coast later this month, I swear on all that is held holy, with the end of 2010 I may never fly another mile. But I WILL make this dish again and again.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You Are Now Free to Move About the Cabin

I have one weakness when I travel, and that's airport newsstands... oh, and seven-dollar beers. Okay, that's two foibles, but I'm gonna write about the former here. I simply can't help it; I'm a sucker for all that shiny paper and artificially lit subject matter, and price is no object. Give me a pretty picture and I'll shell out criminal amounts of cash. But you'll never find me perusing the entertainment section of Hudson News. People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive? Who gives a damn. Naked pictures of Brett Favre? Puh-lease! And who the hell is Kim Kardashian anyway? No, predictably, I'll waltz boldly over to the perfectly legal food porn aisle. Saveur, Bon Appétit, La Cucina Italiana, Southern Living, Coastal Living, and Sunset Magazine. But the most insidious of them all? Gourmet Magazine. Their stylists and photographers ought to be recognized by the Museum of Modern Art, or the Louvre or something. On my way back from the Bay Area last month, the latest volume reclined in a rack with a "come ye hither" stare. As if using Photoshop® weren't cunning enough, the words Special Edition cried out to me from the masthead like some maddening siren's song. My pulse quickened, my breathing grew raspy and shallow, my eyes rolled, glazed, into the back of my head. Once again, and adroitly so, Condé Nast had played unpitying dominatrix to my willing submissive.
But the really nice thing about food magazines? They're actually useful. They're chocked full of recipes and ideas that you can take and apply in your own kitchen. Try that the next time you pick up an Us Weekly.
Roasted-Tomato Tart - from Gourmet Quick Kitchen, Nov 2010
  • 1 frozen puff pastry sheet
  • 2 lb plum tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
  • ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings
    plus additional for garnish
Put oven racks in middle and lower third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Line a large rimmed backing sheet with foil.
While oven is heating, roll out pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11 x 9 inch rectangle. Transfer dough to an ungreased baking sheet. Chill until ready to use.
In a bowl, toss tomatoes with 2 tablespoons oil, 2 teaspoons thyme, ¼ teaspoon each of salt & pepper until well coated. Roast tomatoes, cut sides up and in one layer, in foil-lined baking pan in middle of oven for one hour.
Brush pastry with 2 teaspoons oil, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme. After roasting tomatoes for 1 hour, move tomatoes in pan to lower third of oven and put pastry on baking sheet on middle rack.
Bake pastry and tomatoes until pastry is golden brown and puffed, and edges of tomatoes are browned but still appear juicy, about 15 minutes.
While pastry is still warm, scatter ½ cup cheese shavings evenly over it. Top shavings with warm tomatoes, cut sides down in an even layer (pastry layers will collapse under tomatoes), then sprinkle evenly with remaining ½ teaspoon thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and additional cheese.
Tomatoes (without pastry) can be roasted 1 week ahead and chilled in an airtight container. Reheat in 350°F oven until heated through before using.
Gourmet says, "Sometimes the easiest way to cook something also happens to be the best." I couldn't agree more, and that was certainly the case with this tart. My sweet Lone Ranger championed that doctrine by whipping up a salad out of practically nothing and amazed me for about the one hundred and eleventieth time since our relationship began. I'll never doubt him at the produce market again!
Try this tart. You will be amazed by how five simple ingredients can produce such delicious results.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Lonely Kitchen

Tonto has been flying solo this week, as the Lone Ranger is still off gallivantin' on the west coast. He isn't much of an email writer, or conversationalist on the telephone, but the photos have been coming in fast and furious. He must be like a kid in a candy store out there. I know just how he feels.
The Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge, Lincoln Park Golf Course
Palace of the Legion of Honor, Seacliff
Coit Tower, Sentinel Building (Columbus Tower) and the Transamerica Pyramid.
Sausalito waterfront, San Francisco Bay
Back here in NYC, the weather has been clear, crisp and clean. Perfect, simply perfect for comfort food. The LR's favorite? Soup.
Split Pea Soup - adapted from James Peyton Shea
  • 1lb dried split peas
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 Tbsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp flour
Sweat mirepoix in a large heavy stock pot, until translucent, then add peas, stock, hot sauce, bay leaves and pepper. Bring to a low rolling boil. Reduce heat and simmer on stovetop for 2-3 hours. Remove bay leaves, and whip soup. Make a slurry with the flour and a little water, add to the soup and whisk again.
You can serve this with crisped bacon bits and a dollop sour cream, or fresh mint leaves and swirl of crème fraîche. Be sure to have thick slices of warm rustic French or sourdough bread on the side.
See, when pressed, I can still find my way around the kitchen.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the Occasion of Little Oblio's First Birthday

My daydreams waffle between vocations as a baker, a freight train locomotive engineer, and a professional surf/food writer for Condé Nast. All three have distinctive and alluring charms for me. What's more fundamental than reviving yeast with flour & water and producing the staff of life? Who's never harkened to the lonely train whistle's call on some vast plain, two parallel lines seeming always to converge on some movable horizon? And could anyone ever turn down a job getting paid to surf and eat? Certainly not me! But bread making resonates with my soul as the noblest of callings. So naturally, an old Italian bread dish inspired a menu for an intimate dinner of far-flung loved ones.
You all know Matty O'Food, loyal sidekick, and dependable resource for the pages of You Gonna Finish That? Some time ago, he married a terrific girl, my friend, the "soul of a baker, mouth of a trucker" Dirty Oven blogger. They observed their son's (Little Oblio) first year on this planet with a Halloween weekend celebration. The Dirty Oven came up with a colorful and fun party menu. She recruited the Lone Ranger and me to author something for the grown-ups invited to hang around after the birthday party. Brainstorming one night, we thought a Mediterranean theme would showcase our talents and east coast sensibilities. Panzanella just leapt to mind. After that, it wasn't a stretch to include lamb and couscous. And that's just what we did.
(Incidentally, I coined Little Oblio's name after his birth photos showed a very slight point to his head from the 15-hour laborpalooza he put his poor mother through. The original Oblio was the protagonist in Harry Nilsson's The Point, the 1971 fable about the only round-headed person in the Land of Point, and one of Matty's and my favorite albums. Well, as our Oblio's point began to recede, it was only natural he take up the moniker of our hero.)
A Mediterranean Dinner For Ten
Mustard Encrusted Rack of Lamb
Panzanella Salad
Mediterranean Israeli Couscous
Mustard Encrusted Lamb - by the Lone Ranger
For the marinade
  • 3 racks of lamb with 10 chops per rack, roughly 4 lbs
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the crust
  • ½ loaf French baguette
  • 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for two hours or more.
Cube the baguette and pulse pieces in a food processor to a coarse texture. Toss with rosemary & olive oil, and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brown in a 350°F oven, tossing occasionally.
Bring lamb to room temperature, and remove from marinade, shaking off excess. In a large sauté pan, sear the lamb in a little olive oil over high heat until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Wrap the Frenched rib bones with pieces of aluminum foil, and roast for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 400° oven. After 15 minutes, generously coat lamb with Dijon mustard and roll in herbed bread crumbs. Continue to roast another 5-10 minutes, until an internal temperature of 125° is reached. Remove lamb from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut individual chops and serve immediately.
Panzanella Salad - Barefoot Contessa Parties!© 2001
For the salad
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ French baguette loaves, cut into 1" cubes (6 cups)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, seeded and sliced ½" thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" cubes
  • ½ red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp capers, drained
For the vinaigrette
  • 1 tsp finely minced garlic
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nice browned. If necessary, cook in batches, adding more oil as needed. Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients together. In a large salad bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red & yellow peppers, red onion, basil and capers. Add the croutons and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Allow salad to sit for an hour or more for the flavors to blend.
For a second side, I doctored up a package of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend by tossing it with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, then allowing it to cool to room temperature before folding in chopped almonds, quartered oil-cured black olives and sliced scallions. It got a hefty shake of salt or two as well before serving. Très Meditteraneo, non?
New Yorkers, Philadelphians, Chicagoans, southern and northern Californians sat down to a simple, lovely buffet. Toasts were offered to Little Oblio's parents, to the birthday boy himself, the chefs, even the other guests, just for showing up! It was a night that will be remembered for birthdays to come. Matty O'Food and the Dirty Oven: proven, successful breeders, and hosts extraordinaire!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Five Trains to Philly

It's a multi-train, three-hour commute from my office door to downtown Philadelphia, a trip I look forward to every Friday. I love trains. There are no traffic jams, I can stand up, stretch and move around, I can even take a little snooze without worrying about drifting into oncoming traffic. The minute I catch my first train in the Bronx,  I press "shuffle" on my iPod and check out until I exit the 30th Street Station in Philly. And who's there to greet me every Friday at 7:19? The Lone Ranger, that's who.
Tarragon Chicken - A Blog O. Food recipe as told by the L.R.
  • 1 whole roasting chicken, 4-5 lbs
  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, quartered
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
Pre-heat oven to 375° F. Infuse 3 tablespoons of butter with chopped tarragon by melting over medium heat in a small sauce pan, allowing the herbs to permeate the butter. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with some of the chopped vegetables. Rest the bird, breast-side up, on a bed of the remaining veggies in a large roasting pan. Drizzle the herbed butter all over the roaster, then season liberally with salt and pepper. Add a little water (about a cup) to the bottom of the roasting dish. Loosely cover the chicken with a large piece of aluminum foil.
Roast covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to roast another 60-75 minutes or so, basting the entire bird at 15 minute intervals. If necessary, protect the ends of the drumsticks by wrapping them in small pieces of foil. Once the internal temperature of the roaster reaches 160° with an instant-read thermometer, remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest, covered, for 15-20 minutes.
While the bird rests, strain the pan juices through a mesh sieve. Separate the fat from the stock, reserving both. Heat equal amounts of chicken fat and flour in a large skillet, making a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, but do not allow the flour to brown. Whisk in the reserved stock plus enough canned broth to equal 2 cups, and bring to a boil. Reduce by one quarter, season to taste with salt & pepper. Pour into a gravy boat.
Pros like the Lone Ranger remove the legs, thighs, and wings, and then carve an entire breast half away from the carcass, slicing that laterally so that every piece has some crispy skin attached. Serve with your favorite green vegetable, and don't be stingy with the gravy!
There's a great passage in Diane Johnson's book Le Divorce:

And after the foie gras a new cultural misunderstanding loomed, for the main dish was a pair of roasted chickens, which smelled delicious and shone with brown glazing like a magazine photo and were of course, in my parents' minds, just chickens, a rather cheap food in Santa Barbara.

There was nothing "cheap" about this bird, moist and flavorful through and through, with a lovely hint of licorice from the tarragon. My Lone Ranger spent years as saucier with a major hotel chain, so just picture me later that night, his silky pan gravy in one hand, big chunks of leftover sourdough bread in the other. Oh the humanity!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Meat Is Murder...

... tasty, tasty murder.
I have a confession to make, my gentle readers. I am an obedient little Facebooker, dutifully updating my status in the fevered hopes that someone out there actually gives a damn. Take last Friday for instance: "5:01 Express to Philly and veal piccata." My boy Joe-D "liked" my status, except for the veal part. He's a vegetarian, you see  ̶  not because he loves animals, he'll point out, but because he hates plants. Well, I love plants and animals equally, and am convinced that, in the wild, something on all fours would eat me unhesitantly if I didn't kill it and cook it up first. So, I have no particular empathy for hair-on-fire PETA members or their ilk. However, after a particularly affecting episode of The Fabulous Beekman Boys, I am more cognizant of where I buy my meat and how it's prepared. No more dollar menu meals for me, thank you very much.
Veal Piccata - as prepared by the Lone Ranger
  • 6 veal cutlets
  • ¾ cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 12 button mushroom caps, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 whole lemon, juiced
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¾ cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp capers
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
While a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil heat up in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, pound cutlets to about ⅛" thickness with a mallet, and dredge in bread crumbs, shaking off the excess.
Cook veal in batches for one minute or so on each side, just until lightly browned. (Over-cooking will result in tough cutlets.) Remove to a platter. Add more butter and oil as needed for subsequent batches.
Once all the cutlets are browned, build your sauce. Start by pouring off any excess fat from the sauté pan, wiping out the pan with paper towels. With a wooden spoon, deglaze the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan with the white wine and lemon juice. Whisk in the chicken stock and a pat of butter and bring to a boil. Add the capers and a splash of the brining liquid in the caper jar. A little more butter won't hurt the sauce, but your arteries may cry out in protest. Don't listen. Continue to whisk the sauce to reduce and thicken. Taste for seasoning.
Return the cutlets and add the mushrooms to the pan. Toss in the chopped parsley. Heat just to warm through, then serve over your favorite starch, in our case thin spaghetti noodles spiked with garlic-infused butter and parmesan cheese. Garnish with a bit more parsley and the toasted pine nuts.
This dish is so quick and easy, about 20 minutes from stovetop to table, and almost indescribably delicious - another meal that's all about the sauce. You'll be able to pick up very pleasing, complex flavors with each bite. The mushrooms and pine nuts ground the dish with earthy, meaty bass notes. All that sinful butter imparts a not-so-subtle richness, like heavy cream in coffee. The lemon juice and capers hit all the high notes with a bright, biting clarity.
I love this dish. If I were ever to open a bistro of my own, this would be the Thursday night special. Why Thursday, you ask? Because Wednesday is fried chicken night, and Friday is for catfish baked in parchment paper, silly!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food