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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Moroccan Chicken With Carrot Purée

Just to mix things up a bit, how about a shot of what your next chicken dish is gonna look like at the beginning of this here blog post? If you read through and follow the recipe, you ought to get something closely resembling the serving platter above. Nice, eh!
I've slipped comfortably into the routine of sending the Lone Ranger dinner suggestions (or outright demands), along with shopping lists and recipes prior to my Friday commute. However, I was craving a cheese soufflé a couple of weeks ago, but arrived to discover something with fewer eggs and a lot less cholesterol on the menu, so results have been spotty at best. But this dish pricked the LR's interest, and I'm oh so glad it did.
Moroccan Chicken With Carrot Purée - Saveur Magazine
  • 6 boneless skin-on chicken breasts, pounded ¾" thick
  • 16 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lbs carrots, cut into ¼" rounds
  • 1 large white onion, minced
  • 1½ cups fresh orange juice
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 peeled oranges, segmented
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tsp hot chili sauce
  • 2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 4 oz red-leaf lettuce
  • ¾ cup pitted oil-cured black olives, roughly chopped
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
Put chicken into a dish, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring chicken stock to a boil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots; cook until tender, 15–20 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain. Heat a half-cup of oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add onions; cook until soft, 4–5 minutes. Add the carrots, heat through for another 6–8 minutes. Purée the onions & carrots in a food processor, until smooth, with 2 tablespoons of oil. Season with salt and pepper, and keep warm.
Heat orange juice in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Reduce by half, 12–15 minutes. Whisk in butter; season with salt and pepper. Add orange segments; set sauce aside.
Heat oven to 400° F. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add chicken breasts, skin side down; cook until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Transfer chicken, skin side up, to a baking sheet. Brush with ¾ cup hot sauce. Bake until cooked, 6–8 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together remaining oil and hot sauce with sherry vinegar. Add greens, olives, and shallots; toss. To serve, divide carrot purée between 6 plates; top each with salad and a chicken breast. Spoon sauce over each.
Cultures across the globe know that when you unite sweet and heat together on the same plate you get flavors greater than the sum of their parts. OJ and chili sauce is one such combination. It didn't so much mask the flavor of the chicken as elevate it. And the purée was simple, sweet, and nutty from the sautéed onion. It complimented the orange sauce coolly. Another great dish. I'm already daydreaming about weekends to come!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"For what it's worth...

...I never stole from anybody who would go hungry."
Sometimes I suspect there are maybe a dozen truly original dishes out there, and the rest are all just clever knockoffs by talented copycats. That's where this recipe dwells, except the author has the decency to admit to his thievery. I admire that.
Pork Ragù al Maialino - lifted from NY Times' Sam Sifton
  • 4 lbs pork shoulder
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 rib celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 qt chicken stock
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 18 oz dry lasagna, broken into 3" shards
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp grated Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • ½ lb fresh baby arugula
Using a sharp knife, remove the thick skin from the pork, leaving a sheen of fat on top of the meat. Season aggressively with salt and place in the refrigerator until ready to use, as long as overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a deep saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When it shimmers, gently cook the onion, celery and fennel until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the stock and thyme and bring to a simmer, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Rinse pork to remove excess salt, dry with a paper towel and add to seasoned broth. Cover and place in the oven for 90 minutes or more, until the meat just begins to pull away from the bone.
Allow both meat and broth to cool on the stove top for 30 minutes, or until you can touch the meat with your hands. Remove the pork and gently pull the meat from the bone, then tear the chunks into bite-size shreds. Place these in a large bowl.
Strain the liquid into a separate bowl and then pour enough of it over the meat to barely cover. (Use the rest for soup.) Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Put a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.
Place a large pan over medium-high heat and add the pork and braising liquid. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the butter and stir to emulsify.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water according to the directions on the package, 10 to 12 minutes. If you don't have exactly 18oz of dried lasagna, substitute any other large pasta such as penne to make up the difference!  When it is finished, drain and add to the meat and sauce along with a splash of pasta water. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the lemon juice, half of the cheese, a tablespoon of olive oil and the parsley. Stir to incorporate.
Serve immediately, topped with arugula and the remaining cheese.
Hello butter! Talk about rich and full-flavored. Yet the lemon juice and peppery arugula really lightened things up in a delightful way. And like so many things, leftovers were even better. I had to add a little reserved broth, as the pasta sucked up sauce and flavor like a sponge over night. Give this one a try, it'll be in heavy rotation for some time to come.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food