Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The tongue punisher.

A lot of people ask me if I ever make anything that turns out to be horrible. The answer is........YES!

Every once in a while, over-confidence or sheer exhaustion steers me down the wrong path.

Case in point - last night's chicken. In my defense, it was a marinade based on a poorly reviewed one I found on Epicurious that I tweaked (to what I thought would be) culinary excellence. I literally had a post written in my head about how I saved the day on this one, picking this poor marinade up by the boot straps and slapping it into greatness.

Nope. It sucked. It sucked so bad I took two bites and threw it out. It sucked so bad, it temporarily stunned our taste buds to where we had to rinse our mouths out with fizzy water and wait an hour before moving onto a bowl of cereal. It was horrendously, cruelly, bitter. So bitter that we dubbed it "The Tongue Punisher."

Perhaps it was simply because it marinated for 2 days instead of 1 (we had to work late Sunday night so I didn't get to make it until Monday night.) Perhaps it was the throw-caution-to-the-wind pinch of Chinese Five Spice I added. We'll never know - I'll never make it again.

Good things do come from mishaps like this though. First off - an appreciation for modern day society and the option of ordering takeout should this fate befall you. And second - gratitude for the tried and true recipes that all of us have. The recipes you can make with your hands behind your back. The recipes that may not sexy and daring because of their familiarity to us, but that turn out again and again.

My mom's best friend, Pauletta, told me the funniest story once about their young neighbors who moved in next door to them in Houston in the 70's. Apparently, they couldn't wait to have them over for dinner in their new house. When Pauletta and her husband showed up, the young husband greeted them stiffly and explained that his wife would be out of the kitchen in a moment and that she was a little 'held up' with dinner. Dinner never came. After an hour, the finally wife emerged from the kitchen, sweaty and haggard looking with puffy, red eyes.

A novice cook, she had apparently attempted Beef Wellington as her show stopper recipe for the evening, complete with home made pate and puff pastry. It's a miracle she hadn't stuck her head in the oven out of frustration... (To this day, Pauletta's husband teases her about it by asking "When's the Wellington gonna be ready?")

The point is, a tried and true recipe is worth its weight in gold, especially for entertaining. Guests and loved ones would rather be fed a perfectly executed, simple spaghetti than nothing at all.

As for me, because I don't have guests coming over this evening nor do I listen to my own advice, I'll be attempting yet another new recipe from Martha Stewart. I'll let you know if we end up eating cereal...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pet Sounds Bar - Stockholm, Sweden

If you're ever in Stockholm, eat at Pet Sounds Bar. Weird name, I know. Apparently it used to be a record label. Really cool space, good music, and excellent food (their signature drinks are even named in the spirit of rock legends and famous pop/country songs, such as A Boy Named Sue...)

I ordered 'the duck - x3.' I had no idea what that meant until they brought it out. It included an artfully displayed, brown sugar-crusted, seared duck breast with chocolate and olive tapenade (delicious!), and foie gras (which I skipped) over an incredibly succulent seasoned section of braised duck meat. Get it - 'duck...x3!'

We also had an incredible Jerusalum artichoke soup with goat cheese ravioli, walnuts and thyme. I'll be trying to replicate this one soon...

Fusilli Pasta with Olives, Orange Zest, and Goat Cheese

I know, I know. This one's a hair unusual. And if you don't like olives or goat cheese, well, you might as well skip this one altogether. That said, I highly encourage anyone who hasn't tried Cerignola olives to go out and pick some up to try with cocktails or as part of an antipasti tray. These fat, meaty Italian nuggets are so mellow and mildly sweet, you'll be surprised they're olives at all. Lovely outcasts, they are.

To add contrast to the flavors in this pasta, I added Moroccan black, oil-cured olives. They couldn't be more in your face and flamboyant - tiny flavor bombs, but with a slightly bitter kick, so if you've never had them, try them first. If you can't quite handle the thought of them in your pasta, use kalamata instead. I consider kalamatas as the 'blue jeans' of olives. Classic and eternally loveable.

This is an easy recipe, more assembly line cooking than actual cooking, with one caveat. Pit the olives earlier in the day and set them aside in the fridge so you can just dump them into the cooked pasta. Pitting olives when you're hungry is a guaranteed ticket to the ER.

Fusilli with Olives, Orange Zest, Goat Cheese, and Pine Nuts

1 box fusilli pasta (1 lb)
small handful of sea salt or kosher salt to season your pasta water
Zest of 1 orange
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
14 cingale olives, pitted and quartered
20 black oil cured olives, or kalamata, pitted and sliced in half
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup + 2 tblspns toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stripped from the stems
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
pinch red pepper flakes for heat (optional)
Sea salt

Heat a large pot of water over high heat for your pasta. Bring to a boil, stir in salt, then add your pasta. Cook 8 minutes, or until al dente.

Strain the pasta into a large serving bowl. Add the orange zest and olive oil, stirring to incorporate, then the olives, herbs, pepper and 1/2 cup pine nuts. Season with a pinch of salt, and taste for adjustments. Serve in individual bowls with an additional splash of olive oil and additional pine nuts sprinkled over the top .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Giada's Petite Fillets with Gorgonzola, Shallot & Porcini Sauce

I have a weakness for beef tenderloin. I know there are those who say a New York strip is king, others who swear by the mighty Porterhouse or praise the magical marbling of a rib eye, but fillet is the cut for me.

The fact is, I crave protein more than I do pastas and starches, and there's only so much salmon and chicken a person can eat. Which is why fillets find their way onto my skillet more often than a recession should allow. Velvety tender and buttery despite the absence of fat, there are any number of ways to cook with it.

This particular recipe is from Giada DeLaurentiis. I've adjusted some of the ratios here (Porcinis are too expensive and assertive in my opinion to use an entire cup of them) and swapped out light mayo instead of regular, but Giada gets all the credit for this one. If you've never cooked with dried Porcinis, don't let their scent sway you from trying them. They may smell a bit like dirty socks dry, but I promise I'd never serve you anything that actually tastes like dirty socks. Just remember to rinse them well after rehydrating and before chopping.

Giada's Petite Fillets with Gorgonzola, Shallot & Porcini Sauce

3 ounces (about 3 tablespoons) Gorgonzola
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or basil or tarragon or a combo there of)

1 scant tablespoons olive oil
2 (4 to 6-ounce) petite filet of beef
Pinch salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced (about 3 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 handful dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water from the kettle for 10 minutes, drained, rinsed and rough chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the Gorgonzola, mayonnaise, and mustard in a food processor and combine until smooth (or just whisk vigorously in a small bowl and set aside.)

Sprinkle both sides of the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in an oven-safe medium skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place the filet in the pan. Cook until browned on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Transfer the steak (reserving your skillet and juices!) to a small baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray and transfer to the oven and bake until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees F. for medium-rare, about 6-8 minutes, or 8-10 for medium. Remove the beef from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the shallots to your same skillet over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and saute for 3 minutes before adding the mushrooms and cooking another 5 minutes. Add the white wine and continue to cook until the majority of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 more minutes. Add the Gorgonzola mixture along with the fresh herbs and gently stir to combine. Taste for salt and pepper (you can thin the sauce out if necessary with a slash of more white wine, chicken stock or half and half), turn heat to lowest setting while you slice the beef.

Plate the beef in a fan on individual plates and pour over a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce. Reserve leftover sauce (if any) for another use, such as roast beef (or leftover tenderloin) sandwiches.

Fire Department Chicken

Last spring, we were traveling a ton for work, bouncing around between London, LA, and France. Sounds glamorous, right? While parts of it were (going to Cannes was incredible) for the most part, I just wanted to be back home in my kitchen. The truth is, five star restaurants lose their luster for me pretty quickly, making me crave the soothing simplicity of a homemade meal.

Which is exactly why I made this lemony roast chicken as soon as we returned home. Comforting but healthful, it somehow signified normalcy and the chance to take a deep breath and relax. I threw it in the broiler as directed, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down on the couch to bask in the glory of controlling your own dinner.

By the time I had flipped to the second page of my magazine, my apartment had become magically blotted out with smoke. Apparently, that lemon-soaked chicken skin went up in flames just seconds after going into the broiler.

Cue fire alarm number one, prompting me to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, frantically fanning Martha Stewart magazines to poke holes through the blackness. For a second, the smoke seemed to obey, thinning out to the visibility of sheer pantyhose. As soon as I took a deep breath, my ADT alarm began to scream bloody murder.

When ADT called my phone - I quickly explained it was just just broiled chicken - everything was fine! What the dispatcher (who I'm pretty sure was eating a ham sandwich and drinking scotch) failed to tell me, was that New York's finest firefighters were already en route to my apartment.

When I heard the sirens outside, I wanted to flatten myself like a cockroach and disappear under the floorboard out of embarrassment. This was the ilk of men who saved people's lives in 9/11 and here they were, wasting their time on a pan of broiled chicken. It was just broiled chicken, I explained again as they stormed past me into the apartment, donning full on fire gear, then again quietly to myself - it was just broiled chicken...

At this point the blackened breasts were sitting smugly on the counter - mocking evidence of the lack of urgency the situation required. But that didn't stop the guys from doing a full on investigation. About 18 of them charged in, filing into the far ends of the apartment, taking a look around as if it was an open house. "Nice ceilings," one of them said in a Jersey accent. "This is some kinda place," said another. I went from embarassment to guilt to having that vacant, not really there feeling my cat has sometimes when we take her to the vet - sort of a self induced standing coma.

After several minutes of them hanging out, I got worried they were never going to leave, and were possibly wanting some of the blackened chicken as payment. Finally my husband, who had been out running errands, walked in prompting them to head out.

In Kris's words - "As soon as I rounded the corner and saw the fire trucks, I knew it was you."

That was the last time I broiled the damn chicken.

Fire Department Chicken (lemony roasted chicken with fresh herbs and shallots)
* Be sure to marinade at least 8 hours in the fridge and preferably overnight

3-5 chicken breasts, skin-on and bone in
3 shallots, minced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed or roughly chopped
a good handful of mixed and chopped fresh herbs (I like to use a mix of flat leaf parsley, tarragon (2 sprigs), rosemary (1 sprig) and basil) - but any and all herbs are great including cilantro - I just caution you to go easy on stronger ones like rosemary and sage...
2 lemons, juiced and including the zest of one (I like to add the 'spent' lemons to the bag for more flavor
1 teaspoon of Worchesthire sauce
1/4 cup white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
couple cracks of fresh black pepper

Add all of the marinade ingredients, sans the chicken, to a large ziploc bag. Seal and shake to make sure all the marinade is well mixed. Add the chicken and squish around to make sure every part is well anointed. Place in the fridge for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight, turning over once halfway through marinating time.

Remove from the fridge one hour before cooking. Turn your oven on 375 and grease a large sheet pan with non-stick spray. Remove the chicken from marinade, shaking to rid it from excess moisture. Place on the sheet, giving each piece its own space to roast and get nice air circulation. LIGHTLY sprinkle with salt and pepper and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350, and roast another 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken. If you want to further 'crisp' up the skin, you can crank up the heat to 450 in the last 5 minutes of cooking moving the tray to the highest rack but keep an eye on it!

Let meat rest for 10 minutes before serving, and remember NOT to overcook your chicken. It's better to check it early with a thermometer and find it needs more time, rather than sit down to a dry and stringy piece of meat.

* This is also a great recipe for your grill - you don't have to worry about the fire department in this scenario, either;)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Our new Skittles commercial!

I don't normally talk about work here on my blog (advertising), but my husband, myself, and our good friend Rob just finished a Skittles spot for new Crazy Core Skittles...and well, technically candy is food, so I thought it was appropriate.

See it here

Click on the HD version, using the little button that says HD, on the lower right hand side below the picture box - it looks prettier;)

Enjoy and send to friends!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sacrilegious Grits (I.E. Creamy Grits with Pecorino, Peppers, and Sauteed Onion)

Bringing up grits around southern people is like bringing up politics or religion. Their policy on the matter is unwavering and steadfast, whether it be their devout belief in using stone ground, their conviction that adding anything but butter is getting into bed with the devil, or the principle that grits are to be eaten before noon or not at all.

I am actually a bad southerner in the fact that I use instant grits, I like to add 'high- falutin' ingredients like olive oil and goat cheese, and prefer to eat mine for dinner instead of breakfast. Hell, I even like to add processed cheese to them when I make jalapeno cheese grits...oh the sacrilege!

Luckily, like pasta or polenta or any other easy going starchy side dish, there are any number of ways to make grits taste so much more worldly and exciting than their lowly farmer roots. If you've ever been to Atlanta, you know exactly what I mean. The restaurants there do more things with grits than I could dream up in a lifetime, and they're all delicious.

This happens to be one of my favorite ways to serve them, at dinner, sitting at my unruly table.

Creamy Grits with Pecorino, Peppers, and Sauteed Onion

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped Piquillo peppers, drained, or roasted bell peppers from a jar, drained
2 oz goat cheese (or cream cheese)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Juice from the drained peppers, combined with enough low sodium chicken stock to equal 3 cups
3/4 cup instant grits

Heat a heavy bottomed sauce pot (medium sized) over medium heat. Add the olive oil, letting heat through for one minute, then add the onion, seasoning with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring every so often for about 5 minutes, until softened. Remove from heat and transfer (with the oil and residual juice) to a small bowl.

Meanwhile, add the pepper juice/chicken stock to the sauce pan and heat over high heat, bringing to a boil. Once boiling, add the grits, lower the heat to low/medium, bringing it down to a simmer. You want to watch your grits carefully at this point, stirring frequently to prevent the bottom from burning, and keeping an eye on the heat. If they're spitting at you too spitefully, turn your burner to the lowest setting or remove from the heat for a few seconds. They'll need a few minutes to thicken and absorb the liquid. Once they've puffed and lost they're runniness (but before they get hard to stir), add the peppers, goat cheese, onions, and Pecorino. Stir through to allow the cheeses to melt and meld. Taste for salt and pepper, and serve warm.

Roasted Peppers stuffed with Shallots, Zuchinni and Cheese

These will never win the sexiest to look at award, but they are so, so good and one of my favorite light side dishes when I've had a few too many indulgences during the week (Norwood - I'm talking about your mini burgers - damn you!)

Of course I prefer goat cheese in mine, but you can substitute cream cheese if you want a simpler flavor base. I also like to cut the peppers lengthwise as opposed to cutting the tops off - I think they look prettier and cook more evenly.

Unfortunately, this recipe isn't your friend if you're short on time - the veggies need a good 40 minutes in the oven to become caramely and melting and to ensure that the bell peppers have cooked through. The perfect excuse to poor a glass of wine and catch up on the day's news, or in my case, what's DVR'd on Food Network...

Roasted Peppers stuffed with Shallots, Zuchinni and Cheese

4 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, or an assortment, washed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
salt and pepper
1 zuchinni, finely minced
3 tablespoons goat cheese or cream cheese
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, well drained
1 teaspoon minced flat leaf parsley or basil
1/3 cup shredded parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons
salt and pepper

1/2 cup chicken stock along with 2 tablespoon white wine or vermouth

Cut the peppers in half, length wise and gently remove the seeds and ribs. Prepare an 8 by 8 baking dish by spraying with nonstick spray and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Meanwhile, heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and let heat through one minute, then add the shallots and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper, and saute for 4-5 minutes until softened. Stir in the zuchinni, and saute another 5-7 minutes, until they've begun to soften. Take off the heat and stir in the diced tomatoes. Let the mixture cool for a couple of minutes before stirring in the goat or cream cheese, fresh herbs, and 1/3 cup of the shredded parmesan. Add a tiny bit more of salt and pepper as well.

When well mixed, stuff the mixture into your waiting peppers, to the top but not overflowing (if you have extra - I like to use it under the skin of bone in chicken breasts roasted in the oven - delicious.)

Place the peppers in your prepared dish, then top with the extra parmesan.

Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then add the chicken stock/white wine mixture to the bottom and roast another 25 minutes, until they are thoroughly cooked and the walls of the peppers have begun to wilt.

Let cool slightly before serving.