Friday, August 28, 2009

Shells with Turkey, Parmesan, Chives and Artichokes

It's funny that while I was making this dish, I was praying Kris wouldn't drift into the kitchen asking me what was for dinner. For some reason I thought I'd scare him into ordering take out with the site of artichokes and ground turkey spread out on the counter. (It's what I had on hand, and I'm trying dearly to be crafty with what's in the cupboard versus up and jumping to Gourmet Garage every five seconds.)

Well bite the dog and slap the cat - I had no reason to worry after all. A half hour later he declared this his new favorite pasta...

Shells with Turkey, Parmesan, Chives and Artichokes

1/2 lb 'Shell' pasta, or other short pasta
kosher salt

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb ground turkey (you could sub turkey sausage if you want a richer texture and flavor)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of 1 lemon
1 9 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for plating
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional, or fresh cracked pepper
sea salt or kosher salt, to taste

Heat up a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in a handful of kosher salt, let the water come back up to a boil on standby while you start your turkey.

Heat a large rimmed, nonstick skillet over medium heat with 1 teaspoon olive oil for 30 seconds. Add your turkey, or sausage, breaking up to distribute evenly with a wooden spoon. Cook for 3 minutes, then add your shells to the pasta water, cooking for 9 minutes or just until al dente, as you continue browning your meat in the skillet.

Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer your pasta to a large pasta bowl, adding the last tablespoon olive oil, lemon zest, artichoke hearts, and red pepper flakes or fresh cracked pepper, stirring well. Once the meat has browned, transfer it to the pasta and gently stir in. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the Parmesan and fresh chives, just stirring through. Taste again for salt, adding more if necessary.

Serve in bowls, with additional little Parmesan chunks on top.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ode to Julie and Julia - Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce

I finally saw Julie and Julia!

I loved it, of course. Meryl Streep as Julia Child?!!?? I mean get out of town on a hot catfish! I could watch Meryl play an embryo and be entertained for hours, much less the larger than life Julia!

The movie got me thinking about different types of cuisine and people's loyalty/fascination with them, as in Julia's real life obsession with everything French. The truth is, I don't think I could pick a favorite type or genre of food. Obviously, I'm head over heels for the simplicity and comfort of Southern American cuisine as well as Italian. But then again, I adore Mexican (both Tex Mex and Interior Mexican) as well as the exotic flavors of Asian and Indian food. The thought of not being able to change things up night after night gives me heart palpitations and makes me want to hide under the bed.

Of course, it's hard not to be seduced by the richness and all out indulgence of French food. In fact, Julia was so clearly in love with France itself, it makes total sense that she adopted the food as her own cuisine. Food after all is the shortcut to home, wether genuine or adopted.

My 'ode to Julie and Julia' recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook I received one Christmas from my mom in law, Charlotte, titled The Country Cooking of France. It's written by the modern day Julia Child (though not in personality - she's actually a quiet, elegant English woman by the name of Anne Willan.) And it's a gorgeous, gorgeous book - the kind that takes you to the land itself where the cows and lamb and vegetables grow and thrive versus just listing recipes.

The recipe is Oefs en Meurette - Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce. I followed the recipe for the most part but used Julia's gut bolstering wisdom (make no apologies) taking a liberty here or there. And because I wanted it to be dinner versus breakfast, I added a mushrooms on toast recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Mustard's Grill Cookbook.

I hope the flavors of France, or at least the Joie de vivre that seems to accompany the food, people, and culture, find you often.

TIP: Poaching eggs can actually be just as unglamorous and frustrating as the scene of Julie attempting it in the movie. It takes practice, and even after you've mastered it - I suggest having more eggs than the recipe calls for at the ready in case of accidents. One trick that helps me is to first crack each individual egg into a coffee cup, then carefully dip the edge of the cup into the simmering water where bubbles have formed, carefully but swiftly letting the water enter the glass and carry the egg out and into the water - hopefully in one piece. If you strike out, simply try again, removing the broken up sacrificial egg with a spider. It's not the end of the world.

Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce
Adapted from The Country Cooking of France, by Anne Willan
Serves 2 as a main course.

1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour

1/2 bottle Pinot Noir (preferably French:)
1 cup veal or beef broth
4 eggs
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 celery stalk, thinly sliced (I subbed 1/2 teaspoon celery salt)
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1 bouquet garni (simply a couple of fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley sprigs tied together with cooking twine)
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
1 peanut sized chunk of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
salt and pepper
chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

bowl of cooled water, on standby for poaching the eggs

Bring the wine and the broth to a vigorous boil in a medium, rimmed saute pan (you need the liquid to be deep enough for the eggs to float, so use your judgement.) Break the eggs, one by one, into the part where the liquid is bubbling so that the bubbles 'spin' the eggs. Lower the heat and poach them at a very gently simmer until the yolks are firm but still soft to the touch, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully lift the eggs out with a slotted spoon and immerse them into a bowl of cool water while you prepare the sauce (after a couple of minutes, you can gently lift the eggs out to trim uneven edges with scissors, then put them back into the water.)

Meanwhile, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bouquet garni, peppercorns, and a pinch of kosher or sea salt to the wine mixture and simmer until it is concentrated and reduced, about 20 to 25 minutes total.

Meanwhile, crush the butter and flour together in a small bowl using a fork to work the flour into the butter to form a soft pace (what the French call a Beurre Manie.) Bring the wine reduction back to a boil, and whisk in the beurre manie A PIECE AT A TIME, until the sauce coats the back of your stirring spoon lightly. You might not need all of the paste. Using a large sieve, strain the sauce into a separate, heat proof bowl or pot, mashing the veggies into the sieve getting all of the flavor you can extract out of it. Transfer this BACK to your original pan and stir in the chocolate until it melts and incorporates into the sauce. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

Reheat the eggs by placing them in the microwave for 5-10 seconds (just a flash to warm through or they'll cook), then transfer carefully to your serving plate and spoon the sauce over. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad! (Filets with Salsa Verde and Garlicy Grilled Potato Wedges)

Today is my dad's birthday. And while he wasn't quite the culinary influence in my life that my mom was, I give him due credit in fulfilling another part of my foodie development. The man LOVES food - particularly meat and potatoes - but surprisingly enough has an appreciation for the more sophisticated side of food. I recall a time in college when he dropped by me and my girlfriends' house with a basket of goodies from Central Market (the other Whole Foods of Austin, TX.)

That basket was filled with a high quality balsamic vinegar and other epicurean goodies that I had absolutely no appreciation for at the time. I remember thinking - what the hell am I going to do with this? Well, a good ten years later, I now know what to do, and am dually and belatedly, appreciative. And now, when I find myself lost in a grocery store or a gourmet market in Manhattan, completely seduced by the plethora of options and possibilities around me, I know who to blame.

Happy Birthday Dad!!! I love you!!!

(ps - the pic above is my hubby - not my dad:)

Filets with Salsa Verde and Garlicy Grilled Potato Wedges
Serves 4.

4 fillet mignon, or NY Strip steaks
salt and pepper

Salsa Verde:
large handful fresh, washed cilantro
8-10 fresh mint leaves
small handful fresh washed flat leaf parsley
zest of 1/2 lemon
good pinch salt
small pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil

Potato wedges:
3 Russet Potatoes, cut in half, length-wise, then each half cut into quarters length wise (so you have 8 'wedges' per potato)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 scant teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional

lots of aluminum foil

1. Prepare the salsa verde by putting all of the ingredients into a blender or processor and pulsing until the herbs are set aside. Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting if necessary. Transfer to a small serving bowl with a spoon and have ready, standing by.

2. Grease the grates of your grill with peanut oil or vegetable oil (you can use a paper towel doused with oil to wipe down the grates.) Preheat the grill to medium high heat - about 400. Meanwhile, place the potato wedges into a large bowl and add the seasonings - the garlic cloves through the red pepper flakes.

3. Prepare the potato 'tray' overlapping two long sheets of aluminum foil by about 3 inches on the overlap. Dump the potatoes onto the center, making sure they all lay flat and do not overlap with one another and also that you leave an even border around them of at least 2 inches. Add a top layer of foil directly over the center, then fold over the edges to crimp and seal.

3. Transfer the potatoes to the center of the grill and shut the top for 15 minutes.

4. After the potatoes have been cooking 15 minutes, open the grill and flip them carefully and quickly. Immediately season the steaks on both side with salt and pepper, and grill about 5-6 minutes per side for medium/well for thinner steaks or 7-8 for thicker steaks (obviously less time if you like rarer and maybe more for well.)

5. At this point you can check the potatoes by removing them carefully with tongs and using the tongs or mitts to open a side and check them for doneness. (They should cook for a total of about 40 minutes.) If they're still pale - they'll need more time, and if they're a little blackened - that's okay, though ideally they'll be a deep golden brown on both sides.

6. As soon as the steaks come off the grill, anoint them with a couple spoonfuls of salsa verde, and serve.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pasta Ponza Plus Pine Nuts (try saying that three times!)

Giada's newest show - Giada at Home - has failed to wow me. Too many sandwiches. Too many rehashed recipes from her previous shows. Too many sweets.

But now and then, she'll kick out a gem that reminds me why I fell in love with her in the first place. This time it's 'Pasta Ponza' which she made on an episode recently with her Aunt Raffi (she is the rambunctious fly in the ointment of Giada's anal-retentivess - the two are hilarious together.)

Pasta Ponza includes many of the basic pasta ingredients but is slightly unique in its preparation. You first start by roasting a boatload of cherry tomatoes (which are gorgeous right now!) with a coating of seasoned bread crumbs over them to form a crust. I added two cloves of garlic for more flavor and a pinch of red pepper flakes. You then tumble them into a big bowl of cooked pasta, Pecorino, and capers. Toasted pine nuts help round out the tartness from the salty capers and roasted chicken officially make it dinner for the men in your life.

While other pasta recipes are comforting and filling with their simple, familiar flavors - this one is loud and in your face. And don't be disappointed when that breading 'crust' goes melting into the warm pasta, losing its crunch. It simply takes on a different character, still adding to the character of the dish but in a subtler, more velvety way. (I'm convinced it helps all of the ingredients gel and like each other more like, edible ingredient glue.)

By the way - I'm dying to know who's seen Julie and Julia and what you thought of it!!!

Pasta Ponza (plus Pine Nuts and Chicken)
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis

Cooking spray to oil an 8x12 glass or ceramic baking dish
4 pints cherry tomatoes (ideally a combination of red and yellow, and organic, washed and de-stemmed)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 heaping tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
1/2 cup Italian-style seasoned breadcrumbs
1 pound ziti or other short tube-shaped pasta
1 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, plus extra for topping off individual bowls
3/4 cup roasted or Rotisserie chicken, skinned and deboned, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the tomatoes, minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in the prepared baking dish. Toss to coat. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the tomato mixture. Drizzle the top with another tablespoon of olive oil, cover the top with aluminum foil, and put in the oven to bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, then return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, just until the top is golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes.

In the second stage (de-foil) of the tomatoes cooking, heat a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a handful (yes - a handful) of kosher or sea salt, stirring in, then letting rise back to a boil Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. You'll want it even more al dente than you normally do (i.e. less cooked) as the addition of all the liquid from the tomatoes will continue to break the pasta down, and soggy pasta is sad pasta:(

Once JUST al dente, transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl, using a spider or slotted spoon (be sure to reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.)

Immediately stir in the final tablespoon of olive oil, then add the cheese and toss well, so that it begins to 'stick' to the pasta. Spoon the tomato mixture onto the pasta, carefully stirring it in. Add a little pasta water, to help everything meld (about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup), then stir in the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, to taste (you probably need only 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, if that, with all the salt from the pre-seasoning and capers, but this is highly individual.) Finally stir in the toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley and serve immediately, with additional grated cheese over each bowlful.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A new take on tacos.

We ate this last night. I am now kicking myself because there were no leftovers. You can sub 2 regular hothouse tomatoes for the Zebra Stripes, but the Zebras' distinct flavor give the taco mixture a mellow twang - almost like that of slow cooked tomatillos. I love the fact that the fried bacon gives a little crunch when you bite into them. You won't even miss the cheese!

More back-dated posts coming soon...

Crispy Bacon, Chicken and Heirloom Tomato Tacos
Serves 2 hungry people

6 corn or whole wheat tortillas, double wrapped in aluminum foil

5 slices bacon (preferably Applegate Farms brand), snipped into 1/2 inch chunks
2 chicken breasts (about 3/4 lb), cubed into 3/4 inch chunks
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
pinch ground dried coriander
fresh grated nutmeg
red pepper flakes, to taste

4 Zebra Stripe Heirloom tomatos, diced
pinch sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar

Fresh thyme - about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly picked leaves.

Preheat your oven to 225 and place the aluminum protected tortillas inside to heat through.

Meanwhile, heat up a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a small splash of olive oil, then the bacon, stirring around to disperse. Fry, stirring every so often for 5-8 minutes, until the edges have curled up and they've become nice and crispy. Use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer them to a holding plate.

Drain off the majority of the bacon fat, reserving in a heat proof bowl or glass. Add the chopped shallots to the pan, lowering the heat a little if they're spitting too much. Sprinkle over with salt and pepper, and cook until softened and translucent - about 4 minutes. Transfer them to a separate holding plate or chunk of aluminum foil, then put the pan back on over the heat and add a tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat.

Now add the chicken to the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper (and red pepper flakes, if desired), ground coriander and grated nutmeg. Cook stirring frequently for about 7 minutes, until cooked through and the edges have browned a little.

In a small bowl, mix the diced tomatoes with a bit of salt, pepper and the balsamic vinegar, then add them - juices and all - to the cooked chicken. Return the bacon and shallots to the pan stirring to incorporate, and let simmer away stirring frequently so that the tomato juice and balsamic reduce down - about 5 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the fresh thyme.

The mixture is ready when the tomatoes have broken down a bit and the entire mixture is no longer soupy looking, but rather the consistency of a thick sauce or stew.

Serve immediately on hot tortillas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Days of Figs and Gorgonzola

The good news is, those little mysterious, temperamental fruits called figs are in season. The bad news is, almost as soon as you spot them, looking out of place in their plastic cages alongside the year round fruits, they're gone. If you are lucky enough to get some home, don't leave them sitting in the fridge for long or they'll commit fruiticide on you, leaving you wondering why you bothered with the fragile things in the first place. BUT I promise you, if you seek out truly ripe, unbruised figs and pay them swift attention, they will make it worth your while.

Figs are not overly sweet. In fact I don't particularly enjoy them, even at their ripest, raw and on their own (I blame my childhood addiction to Fig Newtons, which led me to believe they would be as sugary sweet as those famous cookies.) This should not stop you though, as they are easily romanced with a little heat to bring about whatever nostalgic expectations you have of them. Namely, they become soft and tenderly sweet with that signature miniscule crunch that makes them undoubtedly a fig.

In the following recipe, I roast them with a bit of gorgonzola (a classic sweet and savory pairing) then set them atop a lightly dressed salad to show them off. The main dish - flash fried pork chops - has an accompanying gorgonzola sauce which oddly lightens up the dish and makes it look like you were really thinking things through when you planned the menu:)

Bon Appetit!

Gorgonzola Fig Salad:

Sherry Dressing:
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey (or less if you like your dressing 'sharper')
1/4 cup olive oil
hefty pinch salt
good crack pepper

1 package prewashed baby lettuces or lettuce of your choice

6 fresh figs, stems removed and halved length-wise
salt and pepper
1 wedge Gorgonzola cheese
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray, then place the 12 fig halves cut-side up on the sheet. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper, then drizzle lightly with olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove and quickly place a small dab of gorgonzola on each half, return to the oven and roast another 4-5 minutes until the gorgonzola has melted. Set aside until you've dressed you're salad (the amount of dressing above will be more than plenty for an entire package of lettuce so dress accordingly.) Season your salad with salt and pepper, toss again, then set the warm figs on top.

Pan Fried Pork Chops with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce:
3/4 cup crumpled Gorgonzola
1/4 cup light Mayo
1 tablespoon half and half
1 tablespoon white wine
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
Zest of 1 small lemon

Combine all of the above and set aside. If making right before the chops, this can set out in a cool place. If making hours before - keep in the fridge and remove 45 minutes before serving the chops.)

Pork Chops:
2 boneless, skinless pork chops, trimmed of any residual fat and pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, whisked with a splash of milk
3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup Olive oil or vegetable oil, for frying

Set up your breading stations by putting the flour in a wide bowl or pie plate, the egg/milk mixture in another, and the bread crumbs in the last. Season the chops well on both side with salt and pepper, then bread by dunking and turning over to coat briefly in the flour (shaking off excess), the egg/milk mixture, then the crumbs (you'll want to press both sides into the crumbs, encouraging them to take on as much as possible.)

Set the chops aside onto a waiting plate or aluminum lined baking sheet (less to clean up.)

Heat up a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the 1/4 cup olive oil, and let get really hot - 2 minutes (you can test this by tossing in a pinch of breadcrumbs - if they sizzle right away - it's ready - if they float to the bottom - keep waiting.)

Add the chops, cooking about 3 minutes per the first side, until golden brown. Turn carefully to the other side (adding more oil if the pan has become dry.) Cook another 3 minutes or until the second side is a deep golden brown. Remove to a rimmed baking sheet to cool for 1 minute before serving (if you put them onto a flat surface, the heat and moisture might make them soggy.)

Plate with a dollop of the gorgonzola sauce.