Monday, April 26, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

We've had so many rainy weekends this spring, conspiracy theorists have started to foam at the mouth.
Usually, I love rainy days, their being such a novelty for a SoCal boy. But my day job depends on, if not sunny skies, then dry ones, and I've had to cancel too many softball games already this season. One more rainout and we'll have mutiny on our hands. Our university board of trustees frowns upon that sort of rebelliousness.
Rain will keep me from walking to the market from work as well, and I'm left to reply upon my own devices. That's a good thing!
Oven-roasted pork chops with orange & peppercorn glaze
Roasted root vegetables
Creamy herbed farfalle pasta
Start by preheating your oven to 425° F. In a baking dish, give a couple of peeled carrots, yellow onions and some garlic a rough chop and toss together with a splash of olive oil and a couple pinches of salt. Place on the center rack of the oven and roast for 45-60 minutes. Give them a toss half-way through the roasting time.
Pick some fresh herbs for the pasta and chop fine. I went with tarragon and just a little thyme. Fresh herbs are a lot more intense than dried, so temper that heavy hand when seasoning with the fresh stuff.
Once the roasted vegetables start to show a little caramelization, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a hot, oven-proof sauté pan. Set pork chops in the hot oil, season with freshly cracked black pepper and leave the chops undisturbed for 4-6 minutes, allowing them to develop a nice brown sear on one side. Flip the chops, season the browned side with more cracked pepper and place the pan in the oven to finish off with the vegetables for about 10 minutes. Let the chops rest on a warm serving platter while you finish the meal. Pour off most of the cooking fat from the sauté pan and add the juice of one orange and bring to a simmer. With a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits that have collected on the bottom of the pan. Let the sauce reduce by about half, and ladle onto the chops just before serving.
Meanwhile, add a half pound of farfalle noodles to boiling, salted water and cook about 6 minutes or so. The pasta should be just under-cooked. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to a skillet, add a couple heaping tablespoons of crème fraîche, the chopped herbs and just a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. If your sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time. Once the pasta is al dente, remove from the heat and stir in two generous handfuls of grated parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
I got extra thick chops from my Italian butcher earlier over the weekend. The time they spent in the oven left the faintest trace of pink, and plenty of moist tenderness to the flesh. The orange and cracked pepper reduction went wonderfully with the meat and the roasted veggies, and you all know how much I love roasted vegetables! What can I say about fresh tarragon? It has a sweet, licorice-y taste all its own. It's marvelous in a cream sauce.
So let the rain come down. I'll be snug in my apartment listening to the traffic whish along the wet streets, and whipping up wonders in my New York City kitchen. Insurrections be damned!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Food as Low Art

When I was a know-nothing college kid way, WAY back in the day, the Fates put one Mr. McNally in my path. He was the resident manager at a historic inn where I had a part time job as a bellman. Mr. McNally was a true Renaissance Man (a term that makes me cringe). The guy must have known how clueless I was, but he took me under his wing nevertheless, and I got a priceless education on the finer things in life. He opened up new vistas into wine and food and art for me, and I'll never forget the two years I spent under his tutelage. I remember learning to read French wine labels and identifying the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux grapes. He taught me how to tie a bow tie and what a collar stay was for. It was an experience more valuable than any college degree I might have earned.
At one of his memorable dinner parties, he showed me how to make risotto and my poor stepmother's Mexican rice recipe suffered for it by comparison. I've rarely made it in the interceding years; it is rather labor intensive, even for me. But a man-crush on Jamie Oliver prodded me into going to the trouble last night, and I'm oh so glad it did.
Grilled Mushroom Risotto - adapted from "jamie at home", by Jamie Oliver, © 2008, Hyperion
  • 3¼ cups chicken stock
  • ⅛ lb dried porcini mushrooms
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 8 oz risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
  • ¼ cup warm dry white wine
  • ¼ lb shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ lb oyster mushrooms
  • ¼ lb crimini mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh tarragon
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • ⅛ cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper


Heat stock up in a saucepan and keep it on a low simmer.
Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour in just enough hot stock to cover. Leave for a couple of minutes until they've softened. Fish them out of the stock and chop them, reserving the soaking liquid.
In a large saucepan, heat a glug of olive oil and add the onion and celery. Slowly fry without coloring for at least 10 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate, leaving behind the drippings in the pan. Add  another splash of olive oil, then stir in the rice and sauté it until it becomes translucent (this will take 7-10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep it from sticking.
Stir in the wine - it'll smell fantastic! Keep stirring until the liquid has cooked into the rice. Now pour the porcini soaking liquid through a sieve into the pan, add a good pinch of salt and your first ladle of hot stock. Let the liquid absorb into the rice.
Turn the heat down to a simmer, add the chopped porcini and sautéed vegetables and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. This will take about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, get a dry griddle pan hot and grill the wild mushrooms until soft. Put them into a bowl and add the chopped herbs, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Using your hands toss everything together - this is going to be incredible!
Take the risotto off the heat and check the seasoning carefully. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan cheese. I wanted a richer risotto, so stirred in a quarter cup of heavy cream along with the butter and cheese. This type of risotto is called mantecato, and is remarkably smooth. Cover the risotto and leave it to relax for about 3 minutes.
Serve a good dollop of risotto topped with some dressed mushrooms, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Wow, that Jamie! No wonder I have such a crush on him. What he doesn't know about risotto and wild mushrooms isn't worth knowing. The herbed fungi and lemon elevated an already insanely cheesy and delicious meal to ridiculous heights. I practically licked the bottom of my bowl. I actually texted one of my buddies, comparing myself to the gods of Olympus. I'm not sure he fell for it, but wait 'til he tastes this risotto.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One Pot Wonders

Ugh... Cooking for one again. I should just eat cereal. Or find a husband. Or join a cult. Or open a restaurant. I dunno, I can't decide.
The ingredients:
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Whole tomatoes
Tomato paste
Pine nuts
Black and green olives
Vegetable stock
Cube the chicken and brown it in batches in some peanut oil and a little butter. Season generously with kosher salt and cracked pepper.
Remove the chicken, soften some chopped garlic in the oil, then deglaze the pan with a little white wine.
Add the stock, whole tomatoes, tomato paste, toasted pine nuts and the browned chicken.
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
Look how rich the sauce is already getting. Add sliced olives, some dried herbs (basil, thyme, bay leaves, parsley), cover and cook for 20 more minutes or until tomatoes soften.
Add dry spaghetti, stirring frequently until the noodles become pliable, then cover and allow to simmer until pasta is al dente.
Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a bottle of Pinot Grigio to help you forget you're eating alone.
Thankfully, my room mate showed up just as I was browning the chicken and he accepted my offer of a free meal. "It has a real soothing flavor," he announced after the first bite. I didn't press him for clarification, I was just grateful for the company.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living Large

Central Park cab
There are no recipes in this blog post. Other than the shot above, you'll find no original photos here. I did no cooking over the Easter weekend, but I ate like a dying man. My 5-day break was a tour de force of New York City dining for me and two visiting friends, Gregg & Jimmy. Gregg's been teaching business journalism in China for the past two years, and poor Jimmy has kept the home fires burning in Miami, FLA.  The two converged here, and I played tour guide. What a time!
775 Washington Street @ W. 12th
New York, NY
(212) 924-9700
I stumbled upon Barbuto back in 2004 while bar hopping cat sitting for a writer friend who lives just around the corner. It was late spring, and I was drawn to the flung-open garage door "walls" and the sidewalk cafe feel to the place. The amazing food, wine list and service have kept me coming back ever since. So, after a couple of cocktails in Chelsea Thursday evening, I convinced G&J that the 10-minute walk to the Village would be amply rewarded.
Creamy Porcini mushroom Soup
Baby Asparagus & Herbed Fava Bean Vermicelli
Beef & Pork Ragu Penne
Fire Roasted JW Chicken with Salsa Verde
Hampshire Pork Chop with Red Cabbage & Golden Raisins
Grilled Skirt Steak, Roasted Cipollini & Chilies
With several signature dishes on the menu, Barbuto still offers seasonal specialties as well. The vermicelli featured the first tender asparagus of the spring, julienned and perfectly blanched before being added to the delicate buttery sauce. We shared the other starters and every one got a forkful or two of each entree. The soup was deliciously complex but not overly rich at all. Barbuto is famous for it's wood-fired brick oven and the perfect roast chicken that comes out of it. Two write ups in the NY Times have made special note of the dish. It is wonderful. I absolutely loved the cabbage and raisins accompanying my pork chop. A brilliant twist on the apple side one usually associates with chops. Well, the oohs and ahhs made it pretty obvious that Barbuto had hit a home run with us. The hostess came by to remark that we ate like no one else in the restaurant (we swapped plates), and she just loved that. I'm sure the message got back to the chef that he had pleased at least one table.
Loeb Boathouse
E 72nd Street @ Park Drive North
New York, NY
(212) 517-2233
The next night Gregg & Jimmy had theatre tickets for All About Me, the unfortunate Dame Edna/Michael Feinstein collaboration, so we met up early in the day at MOMA for the spectacular Monet's Water Lilies exhibit: massive, fluid canvasses whose water and plants seemed to move on ancient breezes. New surprises kept popping up as one inspected the masterful brushwork. I could have spent the entire day there, but our sweet Jimmy has a strict feeding schedule and the fine weather just begged for a midday glass of chilled white wine. And where better to take advantage of a mild spring afternoon and absorb New York City? Why, the Central Park Boathouse!
Cream of Eggplant Soup
Chilled Watermelon Salad, mountain gorgonzola, celery and mint
Twin Boathouse Burgers, house made tater tots, pickles & condiments
Grilled Shrimp, roasted poblano grits, pancetta and celery hearts
When I moved to New York in 1999, the Boathouse was one of my first destinations. I was commanded to go there and view The Book by my old college rowing partner Whogus. The Book is a loose leaf binder of daily bird counts in the park. It is featured prominently in "Red-Tails in Love", Marie Winn's engrossing chronicle of a mating pair of Red-tail hawks in Central Park. There happens to be a very nice bar and restaurant in the boathouse overlooking the Lake. It's perfect for sipping wine and people watching. In the past few years, the kitchen and interiors have under gone a major overhaul. The dishes now befit this venerable New York institution. G&J's burgers (sliders, really) were expertly seasoned with just a hint of spice, and perfectly medium-rare. Shrimp and grits are a southern classic. Here they were jazzed up with poblano chilies, pancetta and celery hearts. Comforting. We hung around for an extra glass or two of Pinot Grigio before G&J headed down town to change for the theater. I walked through the park to the Time-Warner building and some conspicuous consumption at Williams-Sonoma and Runners World.
Freeman Alley off Rivington Street
New York, NY
(212) 420-0012
Freemans was one of those word of mouth discoveries. One of my rowers told me about it shortly after it opened in 2004 and we wandered around SOHO one night looking for Freeman Alley. It was worth the effort. I hadn't been back in years, but knew this was the kind of hearty meat-n-potatoes joint Jimmy was gonna love.
Grilled Sardines, fennel, treviso, citrus, crushed olives
Hampshire Pork Shoulder Steak, grilled, honey-glazed asparagus
Seared Filet Mignon, roasted onion, mashed potatoes,
horseradish cream
When I was kid my dad would sometimes relax on Sundays watching black & white westerns on television and snacking on sardines and saltine crackers. I loved those afternoons. Freemans sardines were nothing like the canned fish we ate way back then. These were huge, and whole, and beautifully grilled. I should eat more fish. Hearty was served up in spades and our waiter paired the food expertly with an excellent Rhône wine. This is restaurant you take your dad or father-in-law to when you want to make a favorable impression. This what American cuisine ought to be all about (step aside Bobby Flay).
I love showing off my town, and Gregg and Jimmy are two of my favorite tourists. I was at their complete disposal through Sunday... And then I caught a bone-rattling cough and spent the next week in bed. Like I said, good times!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food