Friday, January 29, 2010

Details at 11:00

Jamie OliverJulia Child
If you're even the most casual of food blog readers, you've no doubt heard of Columbia Pictures' film "Julie & Julia" (hated it). Well, Blogger Dot Com Pictures proudly presents, for this weekend only, a Blog O. Food Production: Jamie & Julia.
Friday's showing:
Shell Pasta with Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce - by Jamie Oliver
Seating begins at 7:30 PM.
Saturday's showing:
Boeuf à la Bourguignonne - by Julia Child
Reservations for 8:00 PM only.
Miss Muffy, accompanied by the Doyenne of Chebeague, Ms. Natalie is descending on Southampton for the weekend, and I am playing host. I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl right now.
So, something light on Friday to whet the appetite, and then the real show stopper Saturday evening.
I've got my shopping lists, I've read and re-read all the instructions. I feel confidently that I could prepare both dishes in my sleep. On Sunday, results will be posted.
Stay tuned - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An Exercise in Far Eastern Sensibilities

Torii GateI almost broke down and ordered Chinese food tonight. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's not as if I'm on some sort of deprivation kick (although I freely admit to being a colossal food snob), it's just that it kills me to spend good money on bad take out. Even when I'm in absolutely no mood to cook, digging into the junk draw for the menus piled at the bottom of all the detritus we collect is an act of last resort. But the hankering for something Asian remained. What was in the cupboards?
Pasta in all shapes and sizes, sesame seeds, soy sauce, even the dregs of some peanut butter. The chill chest held a sad looking piece of ginger from god knows where, and frozen chicken breasts. The mind reeled.
Double Happiness Chicken Asian Noodles - by Blog O. Food
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • ⅛ cup sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup peanut butter, I like chunky
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2½ Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • ½ tsp hot sauce
  • 1 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 8 oz Perciatelli* pasta
  • ½ Tbsp Asian sesame oil
  • ½ Tbsp peanut oil
  • 2 green onions, thinly julienned
  • ½ carrot, grated

*Long strands of pasta. Fatter versions of spaghetti that have a hollow center running the length of the noodle.

Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Reserve a half-tablespoon of sesame seeds in a small bowl.
Along with the peanut butter, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, hot sauce and brown sugar, pour the remaining sesame seeds into the bowl of a food processor, set with a steel blade. Purée until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
With the machine running, drizzle in just enough hot water to form a creamy consistency to the sauce (a couple tablespoons). Set sauce aside.
Preheat the broiler on your oven, and place the broiler rack 6 inches away from the heat source. Heat the rack. Meanwhile, bring plenty of salted water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed stock pot.
Spray hot broiler rack with vegetable spray and set chicken breasts to broil until lightly browned on top, about 6 minutes. Carefully turn breasts with tongs and continue to broil until internal temperature reaches 160°, another 6-8 minutes. Transfer breasts to a cutting board, lightly tent and allow to rest. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces.
While chicken rests, add noodles to boiling water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch. Drain thoroughly, then pour into a large mixing bowl. Toss noodles with sesame and peanut oils to evenly coat. Add chicken, green onions, carrot and peanut sauce and toss to combine. Divide among soup bowls and sprinkle each with reserved sesame seeds and a little extra green onion for color. Enjoy with an ice cold Chinese or Japanese beer, or warm sake.
Again with the rinsed noodles, I know, I know!!! I've made sesame noodles several times now, and if you don't rinse the starch off the noodles after cooking, the next day's lunch is more of a gummy peanut butter paste than a pleasant reminder of last night's dinner. Ordering take out would most definitely be justified then. Also, most recipes call for a whole tablespoon of sesame oil for tossing with the noodles. I always think the dish tastes slightly burnt that way, so I cut the sesame with a little peanut oil and get, I think, just the right amount of toasty sesame flavor. Two breasts and a half-pound of noodles ought to serve 4 people.
Well, I saved about twelve dollars in food and delivery charges and can still look myself in the mirror. That made me doubly happy. I'm not judging anyone who picks up the phone or heads to the drive-thru instead of facing the dilemma of what to put on the table. There just may be an easy, tasty, money-saving alternative. I'm just sayin'!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Monday, January 25, 2010

You... You Bean Eater, You!

On the whole, I'd have to say that a career built around the academic calendar is a good thing. Lots of 3-day weekends, plenty of holiday breaks and flexible summer hours. If it weren't for the students, universities would be ideal working environments. (I kid, I kid!)

After returning to New York from Pop O'Food's desert pleasure palace, I had an extra week between Christmas and New Year before our offices re-opened. I was just full of energy. I exhausted that winter surplus in a 3-day burn of transformation. My apartment went from retro college dorm room to a New World Order of tidiness. Anything that hadn't seen the light of day in six months or more went straight down the garbage chute, no exceptions, save for this one: I stumbled on a stack of Cook's Illustrated magazines tucked behind some old day planner binders. Are you familiar with this periodical? You should be. It's sort of a stand-alone companion guide to America's Test Kitchen as seen on your local PBS station. The magazine is intuitive,  straightforward and always user-friendly. So, taking a little break between organizing bath linens and lining kitchen drawers, I did a little once-over twice with the recipes. I set aside about 8 magazines for further perusal. The remainder await an uncertain fate with the recycling bin, or maybe my ever-expanding recipe notebook. The jury's still out.
I was going stag on Long Island this weekend, a great excuse for pizza and Chinese food, but I resisted those ever-constant cravings. No, I would have a cold weather soup instead. Recipe author, Charles Kelsey, did admirable research for a cannellini bean stew, and in homage to those efforts, I put his recipe to the test. The title of this post is a half-hearted insult founded on Mr. Kelsey's claim that Tuscans are known as mangiafagioli, or "bean eaters", since legumes often top the bill of fare in Tuscany. The way I figure it, if it's good enough for Firenze, it's good enough for Southampton, so why not poke fun of it!
Fortuitously, I was in the mood for something hearty and (mostly) healthy. Something that would tide me over through Sunday afternoon without a lot of fuss or fancy ingredients. Kelsey's twist on a classic Tuscan dish was a long, slow baking at a low, low temperature, preventing beans from exploding into mush over too high a heat on the stovetop. He just may be on to something here.
Hearty Tuscan Bean Stew - adapted from Cook's Illustrated
  • Table salt
  • 1 lb dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin alive oil
  • 8 oz pancetta*, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped medium
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ bunch kale or collard greens, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained and rinsed
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • Ground black pepper
  • Thick slices of rustic French or Italian bread, toasted

*If you are a reader from the hinterlands, Lewisburg, PA, for instance, replace pancetta with thick-cut bacon.

Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in 4 quarts of cold water in a large container. Add beans and soak at room temperature over night. Drain and rinse well.
Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 250° F. Heat oil and pancetta (I did say mostly healthy) in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is lightly browned and fat has rendered, 6-10 minutes. Add onion, celery and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, all their moisture is cooked off, and they are lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth, water, bay leaves and soaked beans. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until beans are almost tender (very center of beans will still be firm), 60-75 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and stir in greens and tomatoes. Return pot to oven and continue to cook until beans and greens are fully tender, another 45-60 minutes.
Remove pot from oven and submerge rosemary sprig in stew. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Discard bay leaves and rosemary and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use the back of a spoon or emersion blender to break down some of the beans and thicken the stew. Serve over thick toasted bread slices and drizzle with extra olive oil.
Hearty doesn't begin to describe this soup . Just try to imagine all those whole firm beans, substantial vegetables, salty pancetta and big garlic flavor. Now you're beginning to get the picture. I adjusted the recipe's cooking times just a bit as my beans were ever so slightly chewy at the first turn. I also nudged up the garlic intake. It is, after all, an Italian dish and I was alone. Who was gonna complain?
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Leftover Delivery System

You just knew that with all that great food, there was bound to be something left over the next morning. Miss Muffy, being the frugal sort, simply couldn't allow good food to go to waste. She's a cook after my own heart. So what better way to get leftovers from the fridge to the table in a tasty and eye-catching package? Why, the incredible, edible egg of course!
Root vegetable Frittata - a Muffy and Blog O. Food recipe
  • 6 large brown eggs
  • leftover pan roasted root vegetables
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Preheat an oven broiler. Set a rack 6-8 inches from the heat source.
Meanwhile, break eggs into a large mixing bowl and lightly whisk with a fork. Add the leftover vegetables, Parmesan cheese, thyme, salt & pepper, and gently stir to combine.
Melt butter and oil in an oven-proof 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until butter stops sizzling. Pour egg mixture into the pan and cook for several minutes while the bottom sets. With a rubber spatula, periodically push the edges of the egg mixture in toward the center allowing runny, uncooked egg to fill in the voids. Once the mixture becomes mostly solid - but still moist - cook 1 minute more, undisturbed, to set the bottom.
Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and broil for 2-3 minutes, or until a light brown crust forms on top of the eggs. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes so the frittata cooks through.
Cut into wedges and serve with toast. Dollop sour cream or salsa on top of the frittata for added flavor.
Well, you can imagine what a little egg will do for root vegetables. Take care not to overcook the frittata on the stovetop. Once removed from the broiler, it will continue to cook through for several minutes. If it's overdone beforehand, it will be very rubbery and unpleasant on the plate.
Finally, on Sunday morning with stores in the larder running low, it was time to put the house back together and close it up for the week. But there were still some beautifully ripe hothouse tomatoes and a little of the bread crumb topping from the seared cauliflower. What to do. What to do.
Lightly toast English muffins. Remove from toaster, place a tomato slice in the center of each muffin, top with a slice of cheese (in this case, Jarlsberg), then generously sprinkle the leftover bread crumb topping over that. Broil in a toaster oven until the bread crumbs just start to brown. Serve with extra slices of ripe tomato and strong, black coffee. Pack up the car, set the alarm and head west.
See you next weekend - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cookin' With Gas

Is it a Man thing, or does everyone get an insatiable craving for red meat every now and again? An itch they just can't scratch? Whatever. Since Muffy brought her second-oldest son with her, there was no avoiding it. Beef, medium-rare, would be on the menu. Jaime's eyes lit up like Roman candles when he heard the word porterhouse. Another satisfied customer in the offing!
This night's dishes came from "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea - Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook", by Martha Hall Foose. I stumbled upon this gem while perusing the stacks at the New York Botanical Garden gift shop. The book manager there knows me by face, name and credit card number. I've dropped more coin on cookbooks there than in Tivoli Fountain. I am surely his favorite, most loyal patron. He's got a great knack for what's gonna sell, and I simply cannot help myself.
Ms. Foose is the executive chef at the Viking Cooking School (yes, THAT Viking). She earned points on that fact alone. Her book is jam-packed with upgraded and tantalizing recipes from the American South. I had a laundry list of possibilities from entrées to desserts and had a one hell of a time winnowing them down to a single dinner. Thank goodness for cravings, otherwise there was no way to decide between steak and Paper Sack Catfish. And I actually had to have two side dishes, or I'd still be vacillating between them all.
Cheese Grits - from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup quick-cooking grits
  • 4 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ tsp hot pepper sauce
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • hot paprika
Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a shallow 1-quart baking dish.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine half the milk, a half-cup of water, the butter, garlic and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Slowly whisk in the grits. Whisk continuously for a minute, until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining milk, hot sauce, pepper and egg. Gradually add the hot grits, stirring to combine. Pour the grits into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with paprika.
Bake for 45 minutes, until puffy around the edges and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cover baking dish and keep warm until serving.
Blue Cheese Porterhouse - from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
  • 3 1½ lb porterhouse steaks
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • Salt
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 6 tsp minced shallot
  • 3 tsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1½ tsp lemon zest
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 oz blue cheese, crumbled
After the grits come out of the oven, put a rack in the oven so that it is 4 inches from the heat source. Put a broiler pan on the rack and preheat the broiler.
Brush steaks with olive oil, rub all over with minced garlic and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.
Place the steaks on the very hot broiler pan. Broil for 5 minutes. Carefully flip the steaks. Broil for 3 minutes for medium-rare.
Remove the steaks from the pan and place on a trenched cutting board. Let the steaks rest, tented with foil, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the shallot, parsley, lemon zest, butter, blue cheese and a sprinkle of salt.
Slice the steaks and serve with a dollop of blue cheese topping.
Crumb Cauliflower - from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea
  • 1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup dry bread  crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sear cauliflower in olive oil for 2 minutes. Toss to coat with oil, then cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine garlic, bread crumbs, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle mixture over cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. Finish off vegetables in a very hot broiler.
Logistics were key in getting this meal to the table in a coordinated fashion. While the grits baked, there was plenty of time to prep the steaks, cauliflower and even a pie crust! While the steaks broiled, the cauliflower caramelized. As the meat rested, the florets got a crunchy topping in the already-hot broiler. And just like that, enthusiastic feasting began anew. It was no accident that cheese occupied a supporting roll in every dish. No, I purposefully included it... because I could.
To demonstrate just how completely unhinged I become on the subject of cheese, here's another Top-40 ditty my buddy Matty O'Food and I penned and used to sing on road trips up and down the coast of California. It is sung to the tune of "Mr. Sandman", as recorded by the Chordettes in 1954.
Mr. Satan!
Bring me some cheese. (bung, bung, bung, bung)
Make it a Gouda or Brie if you please!

Give me two wedges of Jarlsberg and Stilton,
That Limburger smells like wet socks a'wiltin'!

I said, Satan!
I want some more.
Sliced Jack and Cheddar on Ritz by the score.

So I'll shout until I wheeze,
Mr. Satan bring me some cheese!

(Jazz hands!!!!)
Don't say you weren't warned. Now would be a good time to describe dessert, I think:
Lemon Icebox Pie
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Pat into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until slightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the condensed milk, yolks, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour the lemon filling into the cooled crust. Bake for 10 minutes, until set. Cool on a rack. Chill the pie for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to serve the pie, whip the cream with the confectioners' sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream on top of the pie and serve.
I have to admit, and Muffy agreed, this was one time where following the recipe resulted in - mainly - a learning experience. It was our considered opinion that there was way too much butter in the crust (it was so brittle after chilling), too much sugar in the custard (cut by at least a third), and not nearly enough lemony goodness (amp up the lemon zest). Still, a so-so dessert is better than no dessert at all. And it took hardly any effort to prepare. Wanna bet a revised version travels up to Maine with us next summer?
So, my goal to pamper Miss Muffy went off flawlessly. I managed to keep her out of the kitchen for the most part (except when I couldn't), and afforded her the luxury of kicking back with a book or her needlepoint while someone else sweated what to cook for dinner. In the end, I got just as much - if not more - out of the venture as she. Can't wait for the repeat!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't Let The Name Fool You

You Gonna Finish That? champion Muffy was heading eastward to the Island for the weekend, and in my fevered mind, everything had to be perfect. I spent hours staring at my computer monitor, combing the Food Network and Epicurious Dot Com for ideas. I ransacked my own library seeking inspiration. Cookbooks are still scattered about the apartment. But I caught the train to Southampton Thursday finally safe in the knowledge that I'd planned a menu sure to secure my rightful place in Miss Muffy's pantheon of noteworthy cooks. One night would include dishes from the adored and adorable Barefoot Contessa, and another night would feature someone less well known, but with plenty of comfort food street cred all her own. But more about that later.
The Contessa put out "Back to Basics - Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients" last year, actually a pretty handy guide if not truly encyclopedic with "basics". But there are some wonderful recipes and one criticizes Ms. Garten at one's own peril, so...
I really did mull over Julia Child's Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, but having decided on steak for Saturday night, I thought beef two nights in a row might be overdoing it a bit. I learned later that Muffy had made beef stew a few nights previous. Whew! Ina had near-pornographic photos of pork tenderloin (been there, done that) and pot roast (we did that last winter), and my eye kept wandering back to a French trussed up chicken stew, chicken bouillabaisse. Very, very basic and just chocked full of flavor. Given the mid-January temps, I didn't think I could go too far wrong trusting my first instincts.
Did I say basic? I had to go to three different markets to find all Ina's ingredients, four if you count 7-Eleven upon discovering I forgot to buy butter. By the third stop, a decent little wine shop on Jobs Lane, I was more than a little irritated with the Barefoot Contessa, who took the brunt of my wrath.
"I hate Ina Garten," I exclaimed after greeting the counter clerk.
"Let me guess," she slyly replied. "Pernod."
Uncanny. Obviously, others had walked down this road before me. And with that I just had to laugh. I was immediately disarmed and had my good spirits restored. Bouillabaisse was gonna be just the right meal to start the weekend.
Chicken Bouillabaisse - adapted from Ina Garten
  • 3 chicken leg/thigh pieces, separated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
  • 1 tsp saffron threads
  • 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
  • 1 can (15-ounce) tomato purée
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 Tbsp Pernod
  • 1lb small Yukon Gold  potatoes, quartered
  • Crusty French bread, for serving
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season generously with salt, pepper and rosemary. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven and brown the chicken in batches. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate and set aside.
Lower heat to medium-low and add the garlic, saffron, fennel seed, tomato purée, chicken stock, wine, Pernod, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of ground pepper to the pot. Stir and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the garlic is quite tender, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300° F.
Carefully pour the sauce into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Purée until smooth. Return sauce to the Dutch oven, add the potatoes and browned chicken with their juices. Stir carefully.
Cover the pot and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, just until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is done. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot with thick slices of crusty bread.
Holy crap, talk about flavor. It started, I think, with the browning of the chicken. The aroma filled the house, making everyone giddy with anticipation. The garlic, tomato and seasonings were perfect. Yes, even the Pernod! Just-tender pieces of potato, juicy, succulent dark meat. Comfort food does not satisfactorily convey the gratifying feeling experienced afterwards. Maybe there should be a new category: comfort food, and then ecstasy food.
I always have a hard time coming up with an agreeable side dish when preparing stews. Salads seem so pedestrian and more starches like rice or noodles strike one as needlessly superfluous. Naturally, the Contessa had two cents to add.
Pan-roasted root vegetables - from Back to Basics
  • 4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 white turnip, unpeeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 carrots, 1-inch diced
  • 2 small parsnips, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • ½ celery root, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 celery ribs, 1-inch diced
Ina called for Brussels sprouts, but Muffy hates them, so they were out!
Melt the butter in a large (12-inch) sauté pan that has a tight-fitting lid.
When the butter is melted, add the turnip, carrots, parsnips, celery root, thyme, salt and pepper, and toss with the butter. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
Add the celery and stir the vegetables. Cover the pan again and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. If they are too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.
Taste for seasonings and serve hot.
Root vegetables and bouillabaisse are the Vulcan Mind Meld of dinner combinations. All that celery flavor and the hint of thyme in the vegetables was the perfect foil for the garlic-y power of the stew.
Well, the crowd was on its feet between the main course and dessert. There was talk of the next day's meal even before the plates had been cleared. I must admit to being not a little impressed myself, and looking forward to whatever was gonna come out of the kitchen next. But like I said earlier, more about that later!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food