Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who else is tired of turkey?

This doesn't happen to me very often - in fact I'm not sure if it's ever happened - but I'm tired of eating. No worse - I'm tired of food. I couldn't even watch Food Network this morning.

I don't know what happened - I hosted Thanksgiving this year and had a great time doing it, but now I'm burnt out on thinking about food. It could have to do with the amount of red wine we went through post-meal. Okay I'm pretty sure it does, but still...

I'll post my menu in the next couple of days. The highlight should have been my chipotle sweet potato gratin with white cheddar, but I made the rookie mistake of subbing buttermilk for part of the heavy cream which held back its potential. So instead - the highlight was a wild rice stuffing with sausage and pine nuts. Hmmm - maybe I'm not over food. I think I could go for some of that right now...

Happy belated Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Butternut Squash, Gorgonzola, and Bacon Pizza

It's the run up to the big day and I'm frantically making my grocery lists and checking my spice cabinet for what's missing. In the meantime I have banned us from eating poultry (we're roasting a big, fresh turkey this year) so that the day will be all the more special. That did not stop me, however, from having Shake Shack for lunch today...

But I digress. As part of our non-poultry pre-Thanksgiving diet, I was racking my brain for what to fix for dinner last night. This lovely, decadent, lusty pizza was the answer. It would have been a bell ringer on its own but what truly sent it soaring into the eternal ever after of great pizzas was the balsamic glaze drizzled over the top. Just the right amount of sweetness to tame the salty bacon and gorgonzola.

Making a balsamic reduction at home so that it mimics those $100 bottles of aged vinegars is as easy as they say on TV (thanks Giada.) However, that did not stop me from failing in my first three attempts and even ruining the bottom of one pan. You simply can't walk away from it. You'll want to. It's like watching slugs mate for the first 10 minutes or so, with nothing much happening but a steady number of bubbles dancing lazily in the pan. But just when you've given up and turn your back, those bubbles will suddenly get smaller and more fierce, multiplying like evil rabbits into tiny little pin sized bubbles. And if you're not at the ready to stir like a maniac and/or take it off the heat, well it's burnt vinegar time:( A stinky, epic mess.

So trust me if you attempt this, tether your wrist to the pan and glue your eyeballs to it.

Butternut Squash, Gorgonzola, and Bacon Pizza
* Serves 4 as a main dish - 6 as an appetizer portion.

1 1/2 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash (about 1/2 inch chunks)
4 slices bacon

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon
2 large sweet onions, sliced thinly into rings
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
good bit of fresh cracked pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
good grating fresh nutmeg

1/4 cup Gorgonzola (you can add more if you like but remember how potent it is!)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar, brought to a boil in a thick rimmed pot and boiled for 15 minutes, or until bubbles become small, foamy and vicious at which point you remove right away and stir vigorously so that it doesn't burn - mixture will thicken more as it cools

* This is a recipe that you will cook everything simultaneously - the onions simmering away on the stovetop while the bacon and squash cook in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 400. Scatter your butternut squash onto a large greased baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle 1 tablespoon olive or veg oil over, tossing to coat.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning over with a spatula midway, until golden edged and cooked through. (During this time you will also cook your bacon - laying the strips onto a small rimmed sheet pan and cooking for 15 minutes or until lightly crisped and cooked through. Remove it and let cool before crumbling into bits. Set aside.)

As soon as you get your squash in the oven, place 2 tablespoons oil into a dutch oven and put over medium heat. Add the sliced onions, seasoning with salt, pepper, and a teaspoon of sugar. Lower the heat slightly and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrunken and caramelized - about 40 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg and dried thyme.

You can now assemble your pizza. Take your prepared pizza crust and scatter over the gorgonzola, onions, squash, and bacon. Bake for 12-15 minutes until everything is warmed through and your crust is cooked to your liking.

Remove and drizzle with the balsamic glaze.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

German Style Brisket with Sweet Onions, Beer, and Mustard

Nothing makes me happier than a giant piece of meat roasting away in the oven. Which is funny because when I was little, the words 'pot roast' ranked right up there with 'tetanus shot' and 'bedtime.' I guess that proves getting older isn't all bad. But this really is more of a brisket pot roast than a classic rump style pot roast. Even though it's incredibly tender when it's done, you can still slice it into thick chunks and stack over mashed or roasted potatoes, orzo, or even spaetzle.

Despite the title, there isn't a strong mustard flavor in the final product. It's more of a mellow, wonderfully rounded gravy with just enough attitude not to bore you. When I'm really craving that smack you in the face piquant mustard flavor, I add more to mine at the table, especially if I'm eating it with roasted potatoes. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm. (Serves me right for making fun of that girl in high school who put mayo on her french fries!)

Final note - the leftover meat makes the best sandwiches on planet earth.

German Pot Roast with Sweet Onions, Beer and Mustard

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (2 lb) flank steak, with just a light layer of fat on one side
per side, seasoned PER SIDE with 1 teaspoon English powder mustard, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, hefty pinch of salt and black pepper
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 bottle Hefeweisen (wheat) beer
1 cup low sodium beef broth, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
good pinch nutmeg, preferably fresh ground

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water

Preheat your oven to 300. Low and slow is the name of the game here, so yes I mean 300.

Put a large dutch over medium heat. Add oil and let heat through until hot - at least 2 minutes. Add your seasoned steak, getting a nice sizzle and cook until nice and browned on the first side - about 5 minutes. Turn and cook until browned on the second side - about 3-4 minutes. Add the onion around the exposed bottom of the pan around the steak. Season the onions with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often for about 8-10 minutes or slightly softened. Stir the brown sugar into the onions and cook another 5 minutes. Add the vinegar, scraping up the browned bits under the onions and the steak, scooting the steak around if it moves easily. Cook until the vinegar dies down, just a couple of minutes, then add the beer and bay leaf and 1/2 cup beef broth.

Place the lid on your pot and cook 1 and 1/2 hours. Remove and stir in another 1/2 cup of beef broth (you could use water if you run out) then carefully flip the steak. Cover and put back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Remove again and stir in the mustard and nutmeg. Cook for 45 more minutes to an hour. Remove the steak to a holding tray or baking sheet and tent with foil.

Meanwhile, put the pot with sauce over a hot burner, bringing to a boil. When boiling, add your cornstarch/water mixture and stir for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Lower heat just to keep warm while you slice the steak, against the grain, into thick slices. Serve stacked over over your starch (potatoes, pasta, or spaetzle) and pour the thickened gravy over and all around.

Serve with a crisp green salad with some dijon in the dressing to complement the mustardy flavors of the sauce.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pretty Pie.

I made it. It was apple. I was so proud. Until I took a bite.

Unfortunately its beauty was only skin deep. But don't worry - I won't give up. I'll report back to you with a better pie.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thai Peanut Noodles with Dueling Peppers and Cucumber

This is my new favorite thing to eat, hot from the stove or cold from the fridge. I use udon noodles, but it would be just as good with linguine, spaghetti, or even whole wheat spaghetti as the nuttiness of the wheat would compliment the peanut butter. And don't crinkle your nose at the idea of cucumber - its refreshing crunch is the perfect antidote to the jalapeno.

I love this on a weeknight when I crave home cooking but don't have the mental energy to do more than push a spoon around. You basically chop a couple of veggies, throw them in a mixing bowl with everything else while you boil the noodles, drain the noodles and stir them all together. Idiot cooking, but you can still hold your head up for having made dinner.

Oh and the diced chicken is optional. If omitting, I like to add additional chopped peanuts over the top for more substance.

Thai Peanut Noodles with Dueling Peppers and Cucumber
Serves 3-4.

1 lb udon noodles, linguine, or spaghetti
3 Tblspns soy sauce
2 Tblsps rice Vinegar
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
2 Tblsns packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chunky low fat peanut butter
2 Tblspns Oriental sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, or more to taste

1 small clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno (deseeded and deveined), minced
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced cucumber
1/3 cup of chopped cilantro

1 cup cooked, diced chicken breast, optional

Fill your spaghetti pot with water, cover and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, dump in the soy sauce, vinegar, chicken stock, brown sugar, peanut butter, sesame oil, and ginger then mix thoroughly with a large fork, breaking up the peanut butter and mixing until smooth.

When the noodles are cooked to your liking (I like al dente), drain and rinse them quickly under cold water, then put back into the same pot you boiled them in over a low flame. Add the veggies (garlic, jalapeno, and red bell pepper) to the hot noodles, giving a gentle stir to incorporate (the heat from the noodles should quickly cook the finely minced garlic/take off their raw edge.) Once thoroughly mixed, stir in the peanut butter mixture. When thoroughly combined, stir in the diced cucumber and cilantro and chicken, if adding, so it heats through. Remove from heat and serve. If you want the mixture to firm up a bit (the taste will still be lovely even if it looks 'soupy'), let cool slightly. Otherwise serve right away. Also good at room temp or even cold from the fridge the next day:)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Double Cheese French Onion Soup

One of my favorite cookbooks is the first one I ever got. It was The Southern Living Cookbook and my big sister Jennifer gave it to me when Kris and I moved into our first apartment together after college. I've been making this incredible soup ever since. When we lived in San Francisco, I didn't yet own a dutch oven (I actually remember thinking it was some sort of fancy electronic equipment) and had to saute the onions in two different pans, then combine them all into the biggest one I had. But the soup was worth it.

There's only one way I know of to screw up French Onion Soup and that is not sauteeing the onions long enough. They don't need to get shrunken and caramelized by any means, but they should be thoroughly cooked and soft before you begin adding the liquids. Don't tell yourself they'll 'get there' during the boiling and simmering step. They won't and your soup will be sad for it. So take your time, and if you want to speed things up a little, you can start sauteeing your onions with the top on to make them more submissive.

French Onion Soup with Provolone and Parmesan
Adapted from The Southern Living Cookbook
6-8 servings.

4 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia, thinly sliced into rings
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon flour
12 oz (1 1/2 cups) low sodium chicken broth
12 oz (1 1/2 cups) low sodium beef broth
2 cups white wine, preferably Chardonnay
fresh cracked black pepper
pinch nutmeg, preferably fresh grated

6-8 slices French bread, toasted
6-8 slices Provolone cheese, or double if you want to go cheese crazy
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Add butter and olive oil to a large dutch oven (large heavy rimmed and lidded pot) and bring to medium heat. Add the onion slices, seasoning well with kosher or sea salt and pepper and saute until the volume of onions has reduced to a third and each and every slice is separated and soft - around 25-30 minutes. Gradually add the broths and wine, stirring with each addition. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the nutmeg and simmer for 15 minutes.

Taste for seasoning, adding any more salt if necessary. Preheat your broiler. Place your oven proof serving bowls on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Then add 1 or 2 pieces of the toasted French bread into the bottom of the bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread, leaving a good half inch at the top free so it doesn't boil over. Place 1 (or 3, if you're my husband) slices of Provolone over the soup, then a hefty pinch of shredded parmesan.

CAREFULLY place the tray of bowls into your oven near the broiler. Watching carefully, broil for about 3 minutes, or just until the cheese melts and forms a golden crust. Remove and let cool at least 5 minutes before serving, using oven mitts to transfer the bowls.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf

The beauty of cooking is that you can put all of your own neuroses - all of your bizarre little notions of what's right and wrong with the world into your food. You are the king or queen of your domain, if only for the short time you spend in the kitchen. Of course, one can take this power too far - i.e. Sandra Lee's Corn Nut Kwaanza cake or Giada's infamous basil, brie, and chocolate panini...

This week, I applied my neuroses to meatloaf. For example, I don't understand putting bacon inside of it. It actually upsets me. The idea of a loaf of meat is mysterious enough without adding bacon to the equation. That said (drum roll for crazy), bacon on top of meatloaf is just dandy by me. You get all that bacon flavor infusing the meat as it bakes while the bacon itself becomes crispy and golden. Flavor + texture. Hooray for being a meat eater.

Another one of my beliefs is that ground turkey works as well (or better) than beef for this recipe. It's lighter, and not just in the calorie sense of the word, but in texture and weight, allowing the mustard and bacon and cheese to cut through. And while I've seen a lot of recipes that use mayonnaise, I can't even comment on that one. You already have an egg as a binder - would you like a side of heart attack with that?

A final note from me behind my podium... Always, always mix all of your non meat ingredients together for your meatloaf before adding them to the meat. And once you add the meat, use your hands. It's the only way to not overwork it, and even then, don't mush and mix until it's one solid, perfectly blended concoction or it will be tougher than a witches' heel. Particularly with this recipe - it's actually nice to bite into a little chunk of cheese or a ribbon of mustard here and there - just like eating a bacon cheeseburger.

What are some of your meatloaf hot buttons?

Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf
Serves 5-6.

1 lb lean ground turkey
3/4 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar (such as Cracker Barrel)
1/4 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup minced shallots
good grating black pepper
2 tablespoons yellow (American) mustard
2 tablespoons ketchup
pinch kosher or sea salt
1 egg, whisked
4 slices bacon (preferably Applegate Farms 'Sunday' bacon)

Preheat your oven to 375 (350 if your oven runs hot.) Grease a medium rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the cheddar, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, shallots, pepper, mustard, ketchup, salt, and egg thoroughly. Add the ground turkey, using your hands to blend it in until combined but not necessarily homogenized as one. Using your hands, sculpt the meat into a round shape, then sculpt until it's a rectangular lobe. Perfect shape isn't super import but uniformity does matter so that it bakes evenly so try and get it as uniform as possible. (If your mixture is too slippery you can either refrigerate it for 10 minutes so that it loses some of its mushiness or sprinkle in a pinch more of the breadcrumbs.)

Place on the prepared baking sheet, then place the strips of bacon over the top, long ways, patting them gently so that they 'stick' onto the meat.

Place in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes. When it's done, the pooled grease around the edges will have blackened (don't worry - your meatloaf is not burnt - actually slightly burnt cheesy edges are DELICIOUS.) The bacon should also looked crisped and golden, and slightly curled as if you'd fried it in a pan.

Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Pork Scaloppini with Sage, Prosciutto and Wine

While on vacation in Austin, Kris and I ate at an old favorite - Vespaio on South Congress. And here's my confession - I ordered the veal scaloppini with prosciutto and sage. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is I ate it like it was running away from me. It was so tender, so sinful, so perfectly wrong I couldn't stop myself.

They used dried sage instead of fresh and I think this is genius. Fresh, whole sage leaves can overpower a delicate meat in my opinion. When I got back to New York, I knew I'd have to recreate it at home. I went to the butcher, opened my mouth to order veal cutlets...and got pork instead. It turns out I'm the worst kind of hypocrite on earth. I can order veal out (once in a while), but not make myself prepare it at home. Oh well...

A trick to keeping the pork as tender as possible so that it mimics veal is to NOT get your pan scorching hot before adding it. I know this goes against everything I ever tell you, but it works. I read about it in Cuisine at Home, a great little magazine my mom got me a subscription to years ago.

Just curious - do any of you out there in the blogosphere have veal guilt? I asked a girlfriend of mine once over drinks - a petite adorable little lady - and she just turned to me and said "I have no problem eating baby cow. They're delicious."

Pork Cutlets with Prosciutto and Wine Pan Sauce
* Believe it or not, you can make this ahead, putting the cooked veal and pouring the sauce over, in a small rimmed baking sheet or oven proof platter in a low heat oven for up to an hour. Just make sure it's on the lowest setting so it's just keeping it mellow and not cooking it further.

2 boneless, skinless pork chops, pounded to 1/4 inch, scallopini style, salt and peppered on one side, then lightly dredged in flour on both sides
* Go easier on the salt than normal - between the prosciutto and stock, there should be plenty;)
2 garlic cloves, smashed

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock

3 slices of prosciutto, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon butter

Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray. Add the pork cutlets to the pan WHILE THE HEAT IS OFF, then turn the heat onto low/medium. Once the meat begins to sizzle, let it go for 30 seconds, then flip to the other side and cook only another minute. You just want it cooked through - not even browned like normal.

When just cooked through, remove and transfer them to a low oven to keep warm. Add the wine and chicken stock to the pan along with the garlic cloves and bring to a boil over high heat. Let bubble away until reduced by half, then take off the heat and stir in the minced prosciutto, sage, and butter.

Drizzle the sauce over the warm cutlets and serve.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Crispy Panko Coated Chicken with Creamy Green Chili and Feta Filling

Wow I have had some bombs lately. And by 'bomb' I mean the pre hip hop definition of the word, as in giant failure. After a hamburger steak recipe that came out exactly like a frozen TV dinner, only not as good, and a tomato sauce that tasted like one of the ingredients had been dish sponge, I finally redeemed myself with this one. And just in time - I was starting to get paranoid.

These little crunchy-textured, creamy yet sharp cheese-filled piles of goodness are not hard to make but do take some prep work. The good news is you can stuff and coat the chicken and keep it in the fridge covered with plastic wrap until you're ready to fry them. Just remember to take them out about 20 minutes beforehand. This recipe made me fall back in love with chicken. You know what I mean - chicken, God love it, is so easy to take for granted, like an all too adoring boyfriend. And while I have to admit that the feta and green chili get first billing here, dill is the unsung hero. If spices were stocks on the stock market, I'd put all my money in dill and never look back.

Crispy Panko Coated Chicken with Creamy Green Chili and Feta

2 nice sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded no thinner than 1/4 inch with the flat side of a mallet or frying pan
salt and pepper to season

2 oz cream cheese, at room temp
3 oz feta cheese, at room temp
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons diced green chilis (from the small cans - usually 4 oz)

1/2 cup flour, for dredging

Egg bath:
2 eggs, whisked with 2 tablespoons milk and 1/4 teaspoon coriander

2 cups panko mixed with 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Blend the cream cheese, feta cheese, dill, salt, pepper, and green chilis together with a fork in a small bowl until well blended. Spoon out half of the filling along the center of one of your flattened chicken pieces, gently spreading it down the center lengthwise but stopping at least 1/2 inch before the end. Fold the breast in half over the filling, so that the chicken is providing a protective nest for the filling. Repeat with the other chicken breast.

Season both sides of the chicken pouches with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour giving a nice coat but shaking off excess. Quickly prepare your egg bath and panko mixture for breading. When ready, dunk the chicken pouches thoroughly but swiftly into the egg bath making sure both sides are well coated. Shake once to remove excess liquid then press into the panko mixture - first on one side then the other, repeating for good measure. Place the coated chicken onto a holding plate or baking sheet lined with a light layer of the panko mixture as you prepare your skillet (or refrigerate on a small baking sheet on a light layer of the panko mixture covered with plastic wrap until 20 min before frying - up to 8 hours.)

Prepare a skillet by adding a 1/4 inch layer of olive oil or vegetable oil to the bottom then bringing over medium heat. Let heat through for 2 minutes, or until a pinch of panko crumbs added to the pan produces an impressive sizzle. Add the panko coated chicken, cooking for 3-4 minutes per the first side or until crispy golden brown. Using tongs, unapologetically and firmly seize the chicken turning it to the other side (if the pan has dried out add a little more oil first.) Fry again for 2-3 minutes, or until equally golden and beautiful on the other side. Transfer immediately to a holding tray or even better a baking rack. Let rest for 2 minutes, then slice them in half on the diagonal, serving at an angle. Garnish with fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The House Oatmeal

When we first moved to New York, we discovered a little cafe around the corner from our townhouse that makes the best oatmeal on earth. We would go at least once a weak - Kris getting a decadent pastry or egg sandwich while I, like some exemplary role model for mankind, ordered the oatmeal. And because of how damn good it was, I never got jealous of what was on his plate.

The poo hit the fan, however, when I was describing the oatmeal to a girlfriend, particularly about how creamy it was. "Well of course," she responded. They probably use heavy cream." This had never occurred to me before. But once those words were out into the world, I knew she was right. My better than thou feelings as well as my love for the oatmeal died on the spot.

Luckily, I've come close to recreating it at home, sans the 'I could have just eaten chocolate pie instead' feeling. I believe the key to a good oatmeal involves 4 things:

1 - Texture, such as nuts or even dried fruit like cranberries to contrast the smooth creaminess.
2 - Just a touch of sweetness. I've found real maple syrup gives a more rounded flavor than sugar.
3 - A no holds barred approach to flavoring, including a heavy pour of vanilla extract and cinnamon.
4 - A little fat, sadly. Skim milk equals sad oatmeal:(

I tried using the much sworn by steel cut oatmeal before and I felt like I was eating bullets. Perhaps I screwed them up but either way, I'm sticking with the lazy man's version. After all, the beauty of oatmeal to me is that it's fast.

Alisa's Oatmeal
Serves 3.

1 cup quick cooking oatmeal (I use McCann's Irish Quick Cooking Oatmeal)
2 cups 2% milk (1% is acceptable - whole milk is delicious!)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon real maple syrup
couple of shakes nutmeg, or grates if using fresh
1/4 cup pecan pieces

fresh banana slices, or raspberries or blueberries if desired

Add the oats and milk to a small sauce pot with a lid. Stir well, then place the lid over and put on medium high heat. You just want to bring the mixture to a low boil, and once boiling, stir frequently until it's the consistency that you like being sure to not let the bottom burn/stick. This should take no longer than 5 minutes. Once to your liking, remove from the heat and stir in the rest of the ingredients through the pecan pieces. Taste for sweetness, making any adjustments necessary (or you can let people add more syrup to theirs individually if desired.) Spoon into serving bowls and top with fresh fruit if desired.