Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Taco Night

I feel bad for ripping on the now cooling trend of 'quick and easy' cooking. Call it a karmic bitch slap, but this week I am craving home cooked meals yet strapped for time between work and getting ready for our Halloween party. So, while I'll never be a Rachael Ray fan, I finally get the point. The good news is it's forcing me to make and post some of my favorite, simplest recipes I normally would deem too simple for the blog. I call these kinds of recipes 'assembly line' cooking - more of a suggestion really than a recipe (but if I don't write something down I forget about it all there you go.)

Of these, tonight's is one of my and Kris's favorites - soft beef tacos. Again, just like last night's egg dinner, it requires less than 5 ingredients! And it's something I would just as happily eat with a glass of wine on a Friday night dinner to celebrate putting the week behind me as I would for for Sunday lunch.

The reason it works so well is, I think, because the few ingredients here work in such sharp contrast to each other. You want the sharpest white cheddar you can get your hands on to stand out against the sweet crunch of sauteed shallots (I prefer a good amount of diced shallots to dance with my ground beef, but add them as you like. And of course you could add in some cilantro, chopped jalapenos or other things, but to me this recipe is for the nights when even the thought of cleaning up after dinner is enough to make you cry, so simpler is better.) Pillowy white tortillas bring it all together, and that's dinner.

Soft Beef Tacos:

1 pound ground beef (preferably grass fed)
3 medium shallots, diced
1/2 cup hand shredded SHARPEST white cheddar
1 package best quality soft flour tortillas, wrapped in foil and heated in the oven on 250 for ten minutes
Canola oil
Salt and pepper/Red pepper flakes

Add a splash of canola oil to a medium skillet and shallots over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and saute for a few minutes until they begin to turn opaque. Add in your ground beef, breaking up with your spoon and season with more salt and pepper (I like to add a pinch of red pepper flakes too.)

Cook for 10-12 minutes, until no longer pink. Meanwhile, grate up your cheddar to have at the ready.

Pull out your warmed tortillas, assemble, and eat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

3 Minute Meal; Eggs, Cheese, Prosciutto

I am not an eggs/bacon/toast gal for breakfast. I prefer to start the day with something small and sweet, leaving the serious eating to later on. So it makes sense that I almost never eat eggs. I like eggs, but I never think of them since they're mostly breakfast food. Well shame on me for my old fashioned stereotypes. There is no reason on earth eggs have to be breakfast.

This occurred to me for the first time the other night when we got home late from work and I opened the fridge knowing there wasn't much in there, fearing I'd have to order take out. Here's what stared back at me - eggs, some shredded Mozzarella, and a package of diced prosciutto.

Not less than 5 minutes later, I was sitting on the couch, steaming bowl of fluffy scrambled eggs in hand. The only thing that could have made this little miracle dinner any better was a glass of Champagne, but I was too tired to open any.

I give you...Eggs, Cheese, Prosciutto!

Scrambled eggs with Mozzarella Cheese and Prosciutto (or anything you've got in your fridge.)
Serves 1

Splash of milk
3 eggs
Heaping tablespoon of proscuitto bits or 2 prosciutto slices, torn up
1/3 cup of shredded Mozzarella
salt and pepper

Pour a splash of milk into small bowl, then crack the eggs in. Whip with a fork or whisk to break up, then add in your cheese and prosciutto, season with salt and pepper, and whip a few seconds more until fluffy.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat, pour in the egg mixture and let sit for 1 minute, until sides begin to look cooked. Use your spatula to gently 'scramble', let sit for 30 seconds, then repeat until eggs are desired consistency.

* Actually, I could have easily snipped in some Italian parsley or green onions which I also had on hand, but something about the beautiful graphicness of the hot pink prosciutto chunks against the smooth yellow eggs told me not to.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tortellini Soup with Pancetta, Swiss Chard and White Beans

Adapted from Everyday Pasta, by Giada DeLaurentiis.

3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 oz pancetta, chopped (or thick bacon)
3 large shallots (or a small onion), chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15 oz) can chopped San Marzano tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch of Swiss chard, well rinsed, removed from spine and rough chopped
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry white wine
1 lb. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
Salt and pepper

In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook for a few minutes until the fat has begun to render but before it becomes too crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a plate. Add the shallots and carrot to the oil, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, canned tomatoes, and sugar, and cook two more minutes stirring well. Then add beans, chicken broth and wine and bring up to a boil over high heat. Toss in the Swiss chard and let it wilt, about 3 minutes.

Add the tortellini and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the tortellini are tender (about 4 minutes for fresh, 8 minutes for frozen). Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

* This soup is even better the next day - a great soup to make on a Sunday and take to work for lunch during the week. It also freezes well.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Seared Tuna with Ginger, Cilantro and Soy Glaze

This is the easiest thing you will ever make, and possibly the tastiest. And best of all, it's good for you.

In fact, the key to preparing tuna, or any fish, is finding the best, freshest quality available to you. Find a fish that died happy and healthy, not too far in the distant past and half the work's done for you.

A tired or sub par piece of fish will never be good, no matter what you do to it. And conversely, a great piece of fish really doesn't need much. Particularly with tuna - you literally shouldn't do much to it. Just get your pan hot, add a little olive oil and sear, NO MORE than 1 1/2 minutes per side, depending on thickness.

If you are a person who eats their tuna completely cooked through, I'm not sure you'll get all the lovely nuances from this dish. (Not that I'm judging or anything - I used to drink white zin.) But the point is to get a nice seared, golden outside, and leave the interior at peace. After the meat's rested, your knife should glide through easily to reveal the preserved ruby red, rare interior.

Be sure to choose wild tuna if you can get it - a piece about two inches thick with color as vivid and brazen as dark cherry lipstick. Since the cilantro and avocado top hat do double duty as salad and garnish, I like to serve this with mashed potatoes with a little chive snipped in, or if I'm feeling completely virtuous, bok choy I blanch in salted water, then stir around a hot pan with a little low sodium soy sauce and a smidge of honey until I get bored.

Enjoy, and as my mother in law Charlotte says, "Keep those pans hot!"

Pan Seared Tuna with Avocado, Soy, Ginger, Cilantro and Lime
Serves 4

Leaves from 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
2 SMALL jalapenos, sliced (add to taste)
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, grated (I used a couple of shakes of powder instead)
4 limes, juiced
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
4 (6 ounce) blocks sushi-quality tuna
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced

In a mixing bowl, combine the cilantro, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, and a small splash (not quite a tablespoon) of olive oil. Stir the ingredients together until well incorporated.

Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the tuna pieces generously with salt and pepper. Lay the tuna in the hot oil and sear for 1 minute to form a slight crust; flip and sear the other side 1 minute. Pour half of the cilantro mixture into the pan to coat the fish. Transfer the seared tuna to plates and serve with the sliced avocado and the remaining cilantro sauce drizzled over the whole plate.

PS - Dad, this is the tuna I made for you and Sally in Minneapolis.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Turkey Bolognese to greet the winter

It's a weird time in New York. Officially, it's just turned fall, and in fact, the leaves haven't even begun to change color yet. They seem to be hanging onto their emerald green as stubbornly as the New Yorkers still popping around the village in flip flops and shorts despite the temperatures hovering around 50 degrees this weekend.

Well not me. Ask this Texan what time of year it is and I'll tell you it's winter. Because despite the natives (both human and botanical in nature) insisting otherwise, it FEELS like winter. Case in point - it takes a lot to make me drag out my winter clothes from our attic and swap them out for my summer clothes, but it was so chilly yesterday I had it done within an hour.

So it's no wonder I was craving something hearty, homey, and warming for dinner. What I really wanted to make was short ribs, but I thought it was a little too early to go to something that filling (i.e. fattening.) After all, there's a lot of winter left. Instead, I opted for a lighter bolognese made with ground turkey. Two things separate this dish from your everyday bolognese. One - I sautedd a thinly sliced fennel bulb along with the onions to give it a hint of sweetness (don't worry if you hate fennel - Kris does and had NO idea it was in there - it loses its distinctive licorice taste after hours of simmering.) Two - I add a pinch of provencal sea salt along with each addition of new ingredients. Provencal sea salt is just regular sea salt with provencal style herbs added to it. If you can't find it in stores, you can blend up your own using whatever dried herbs you like, but the key one for me is dried lavender. This and the fennel keep the dish from getting too bogged down by its rusticness.

I hope winter (or fall) finds you well!

Alisa's Turkey Bolognese with Bow Ties

Olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon provencal sea salt mixed with 1/2 teaspoon plain sea or kosher salt (you will add this gradually throughout cooking and may not use all of it)

1 carrot, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb ground turkey

1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
2 tspns tomato paste
1 tablespoon each chopped fresh basil, parsley
1 bay leaf
2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/4 cup whole milk
parmesan, to taste

2 cups bow tie pasta

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add about 3 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to coat the bottom, and let warm through a minute before adding the onions and fennel. Season with a pinch of your provencal sea salt mixture and saute, stirring occasionally until completely softened, about 7 minutes. Add the carrot and garlic along with another small pinch of your seasoning mixture, and saute another 5-7 minutes.

Add the ground turkey, along with another pinch of seasoning. Gently toss and cook until no longer pink, stirring occasionally (but not constantly or you will toughen your meat) for about 10 minutes. Add the wine, peeled tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh herbs, bay leaf and chicken stock along with another pinch of your seasoning and stir to incorporate. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours or until thickened.

After two hours, fill another large pot with water and bring to a boil for the pasta. Season the water with salt, add the pasta, and cook until JUST al dente, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, take your bolognese off the heat and add the milk, stirring to incorporate, then putting back on the burner on low. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, strain the bow ties and add them to the bolognese (you might not want to add all of the bow-ties - I happen to like a high pasta to bolognese ratio.) Taste for salt, adding any more if necessary, then serve with grated parmesan.