Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tuesday Night Supper: Fast Frittata

Frittata (plural: Frittati?) is the quick cook's best friend. The only required ingredients is eggs: beyond that, the sky's the limit. (I will say, at times, it's not the most photogenic of dishes, thus, this picture.)

My quick formula for frittata requires something sort of starchy (potatoes, rice, pasta, cubes of bread), a vegetable (or several) and some kind of cheese. That said, I have made frittatas (frittatii?) with only vegetables, or with no cheese, etc. The formula is very flexible.

Last night's frittata used leftover Spanish potato salad (potatoes boiled and tossed with romesco sauce) and artichoke hearts left from Monday night's pasta dish.

First, I sauteed the potato salad and artichoke hearts. I just wanted to warm them up, since they were already cooked. While they were cooking, I whisked 6 eggs in a bowl. When the potatoes and artichokes were warmed through and sizzling, I poured the eggs over them (I used a 12" non-stick skillet for 6 eggs ).

I cooked the eggs for about minutes, using a rubber spatula to clean egg off the side of the pan . When the eggs looked mostly set (just a little runny on top), I put the pan under the broiler for another 5 minutes to cook the frittata through. I did not use cheese in this dish because the romesco sauce was fairly rich-tasting and I didn't think I would need the extra richness and saltiness from cheese (I was right).

Let the frittata sit while you set the table. Cut into wedges and serve.

Note 1: My method makes a thin frittata. If you want a thicker frittata, use a smaller pan, and cook the frittata over lower heat.

BTW - My lettuce was stored last week, using my super-duper lettuce preservation method. It truly works well.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Week of April 27: Monday Night Supper

Okay, so this is shaping up to be another "cooking by the seat of my pants" kind of week. But this time I don't even have a gorgeous panoply of produce to work with. So, no meal plan for the week again, and I am cooking from the pantry yet again. Thank goodness I have a well-stocked pantry!

So, Monday night I pulled together the pantry cook's greatest tools: dry pasta and canned beans. If you have those two items in the larder, you have nothing to worry about. Then I rooted around in the fridge and freezer and to see what else I could find. I am also fortunate that the chives in my herb garden are taking off.

I ended up with a box of orzo, a can of chickpeas, a half jar of tuna packed in oil, a bag of frozen artichoke hearts (great product to have on hand), a lemon, parsley (keeps a long time in the fridge) and thyme from the vegetable drawer and chives from the garden.

Making dinner was pretty simple. Cook the pasta (orzo doesn't take long to cook). When you drain it, save about 1 cup of the cooking water.

While it's cooking, make the sauce: Cut the artichokes in half (the long way). Saute them with a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the artichokes are browned and warmed through (I threw them in straight from the freezer), add in one can of drained chickpeas. When they are warm, add in the tuna (with its oil). Break up any large pieces, but leave the tuna chunky. Toss in the zest from one lemon, the juice of one lemon, some thyme, and finely chopped parsley and chives. Stir and season with salt and lots of black pepper.

Add your cooked pasta to the pan - you may not want to add all of it. The amount of sauce I made was enough for about 1/2 pound of pasta (before cooking). If the pasta and sauce seem too dry, add 1/4-1/2 cup pasta cooking water and stir. Add more water and a little olive oil if it's still too dry. Done.

Note: This is a very adaptable dish: I could have gone a different way and made it with dried mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, black olives and anchovies (keeping the chickpeas, chives and parsley in the dish). I prefer little shell pasta when I'm cooking with chickpeas (the beans nestle into the shells), but I didn't have any.

Now what am I making for dinner tonight?

Happy Easter Monday

For those who celebrated Orthodox Easter yesterday, happy Easter to you. I was raised Orthodox and while I'm not too observant these days, Easter is a very important holiday.

We had a lovely Sunday afternoon at a pot luck lunch organized by our local convivium of Slow Food. The meal had a Spanish theme, but due to a serendipitous conversation with my mother about the dessert she was making, I decided to follow her lead and make the same thing (she's a smart lady, my mom is).

This is from Martha Stewart Living (March 2008) issue. It is not on her website (Believe me, I looked) and I'll transcribe the recipe for you if there's interest.

The Greeks out there would call this dessert galatoboureko, Martha et al. called it Semolina Custard Tart with Honeyed Pine Nuts. More descriptive, I'd agree. Galatoboureko is a custard, thickened with semolina flour in addition to eggs, wrapped in buttery phyllo and topped with honeyed syrup (the pine nuts are a nontraditional touch). I dusted it with non-melting confectioners' sugar from King Arthur Flour - what a marvelous invention!

It was very delicious, and unlike Greek desserts you may be used to, it was not too sweet. As a result, it was a super conclusion to a filling and convivial meal.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Drink of the Week: Negroni

The Negroni is one of many drinks in the pantheon of "Classic but Sorta Forgotten Cocktails." (It's so forgotten that I actually had to talk a bartender through the process of making one recently. He did a fine job making it, but then killed any chance for a large tip by asking "Why would you want to drink something that tastes so horrible?")

... anyhoo ...

It's a simple drink and rather refreshing as the weather starts to get warmer. Tonight I had mine up, but it's completely acceptable to serve this drink on the rocks. You can also make it a "longer" drink by putting it into a tall glass and topping it off with soda. That variation is called an Americano.

In an iced mixing glass, combine equal portions* of:
  • Gin (Beefeater is a good choice here)
  • Campari
  • Sweet vermouth
Stir until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist**. (If you are making an Americano, use an orange slice instead.)

* Some like a drink that is ginnier (the Campari can be very strong). In that case, I suggest a ratio of 2 or 3 parts gin to 1 part of each of the other ingredients. I suggest Campari newbies try a 3 to 1 to 1 ratio, just to get their feet wet, as it were.

** The drink in the picture above is garnished with candied kumquats. As you know, I am a fancypants kinda gal and had said garnish in the fridge. Any other time, I'd be using an orange twist like a normal person.

Thursday Night Supper: Sandwiches and Sprouts

So, I have almost used up all my vegetables from my frenzy of produce purchasing last Sunday. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I haven't really used up the root vegetables yet, that is true, and that is because I thought they could wait for while - I wanted to get all the leafy, fresh stuff cooked first.

The last item I had left to conquer were some gorgeous brussels sprouts (yes, I said gorgeous). I normally roast sprouts in a hot oven. However, it was beautiful out and the idea of heating up the kitchen was rather unappealing.

So, I grilled 'em. What a happy outcome. It reduced the sulfur-cabbageyness that sprouts haters don't like. The sprouts took on a nice smoky note which was accented by the handful of speck I tossed over the top towards the end of cooking.

This method is highly recommended.

To grill your sprouts you will need a grill-top wok or grilling rack. This makes it easy to just toss the sprouts on the grill. If you don't have a grill pan, you could skewer the sprouts like kebabs, I suppose.

Slice your sprouts in half and toss them with salt, pepper and oil. Grill the spouts (stirring them occasionally) over medium high heat until they start to soften and brown (about 10 minutes). Towards the end of cooking, toss a handful of chopped ham, speck or semi-cooked chopped bacon over the top (optional). When done, throw them in a bowl and sprinkle on a wee bit more salt and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice.

We ate ours as a side dish with Italian cold cut sandwiches, but I think this dish could be a nice cole slaw replacement (assuming you can find sprouts later in the year - they do tend to be very seasonal and I see the season coming to an end soon).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wednesday Night Supper: Red Curry and Rice

Red and green curry pastes (and coconut milk) are your friends. It's amazing what deliciousness you can whip up when you have these key ingredients in the pantry.

I found the Thai Kitchen brand in my local Shaw's supermarket and the cans at my Asian market. The jars work fine, although they are rather hot hot hot (test your palate first - the heat gets hotter as the dish sits too).

Last night we had yu toy greens (sometimes called Chinese broccoli. Gai lan is also called Chinese broccoli), stirfried with garlic and chilies, and a red curry with tofu over jasmine rice.

Yu toy, like every other leafy green out there, really reduces down after you cook it. See before and after pics.

The curry is super easy to make if you have curry paste and coconut milk. I had limited proteins at my disposal, but I did have a half-pound block of firm tofu in the freezer. When you thaw frozen tofu it takes on a crumbly, scrambled eggy texture which is quite nice when crumbled into a curry sauce.

To make my curry, I sauteed some thin sliced onion and chopped carrots (just to give them a a head start on softening up). When they were a little soft, I added two teaspoons of red curry paste (Thai Kitchen brand). I stirred that around to "toast" the curry paste.

When the paste was fragrant, I added a can of coconut milk. I left it to simmer for a few minutes and added about a cup of chicken broth to loosen the sauce up (undiluted coconut milk is rich). I added in the tofu and let everything simmer gently while I waited for the greens and the rice to finish up. I tossed in a handful of cilantro and thai basil to finish. (Sorry, realized I have no picture of the finished dish.)

The whole process took about 20 minutes from start to finish, not counting waiting for the rice to finish cooking.

We finished with a salad of chunks of cantaloupe and cucumber tossed with mint, basil, chilies and lime.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tuesday Night Supper: Antipasti Plates

When you have an assortment of items in the larder, a nice option for dinner (albeit a slightly time-consuming one) is to set a table full of antipasti. Traditional dishes include things like olives, cheeses and cold cuts. Raw or cooked vegetable salads are good additions also.

In an effort to use up more of the items we purchased on Sunday, these are the items I put together for dinner:
  • Grilled eggplant in agrodolce (sweet and sour sauce)
  • Melon wrapped with speck (similar to prosciutto, but it's smoked)
  • Asian pears wrapped with bresaola (an air dried beef - sort of like really elegant beef jerky) and mimolette (a Gouda-like hard French cheese)
  • Thinly sliced fennel in a lemon vinaigrette
  • Semolina bread
Now this all sounds pretty fancypants (and I swear I really do eat things like hot dogs and french fries), but it was easy to put together and pretty quick, relatively speaking. Total kitchen time was about 45 minutes, including grilling the eggplant.

Sorry, no recipes again, but these dishes are easy enough that you don't need them.

For the melon dish: wrap thinly sliced melon wedges with strips of speck or prosciutto. The melon must be ripe (that is really the toughest part of this dish - finding the melon). I used about 1/4 pound of speck for one small melon.

For the Asian pears: wrap wedges of Asian pears (or ripe "normal" pears) with bresaola (you may wish to cut the bresaola in half - it's generally sorta wide), tuck in a piece of mimolette (or cheddar or aged Gouda), serve on a piece of radicchio (or Belgian endive or Bibb lettuce). Drizzle with olive oil.

For the eggplant agrodolce: Slice your eggplant into 1/2" slices. Drizzle with oil and grill or broil until cooked through. In a small saucepan, saute a minced shallot. When soft, add 1/4 cup or so of good red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar), a small handful of raisins and a tablespoon of capers. Simmer for a few minutes (this will be whiffy, simmering vinegar is certainly sinus-clearing). Pour the sauce over the eggplant, season with salt and pepper. This is better the next day when the sauce has had a moment to seep into the eggplant.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday Night Supper: Mushrooms

Monday night we had fresh mushrooms as a sauce on little cheese souffles. We ate broccoli rabe (also called broccoli di rapi or rapini) as a side dish (no pic of that - it was green). This was a good idea: the souffle and mushrooms were rich, so the bitterness of the rabe was a great counterpoint.

I am working with souffles right now, trying to find an elegant bake-ahead option. I was pretty happy the taste and texture with these, but still need to increase the elegance factor. I'll post the recipe when I'm happy with it. Promise.

Anyway, the mushrooms:

These are morels. This is morel season and you may see them in specialty markets (Whole Foods will probably carry them too). They are pricey (mine were $25 a pound), but you don't need much to make an impact - I got about $5 worth and that was plenty (mixed with other mushrooms) to make an impact. Their flavor is deep and woodsy and not very mushroom-like. Quite nice. I cut the small ones in half and the large ones into quarters.

And these are the hedgehogs. Aren't they cute? They have little spines growing off the caps. The spines are soft and taste just like the rest of the mushroom. And how do they taste? Really nice, the flavor was a little sweet and very rich in mushroom flavor. I do think that the flavor of the morels was stronger, so if I try them again, I'll probably saute them with a milder mushroom like cremini (or even plain white button) mushrooms.

The cooking method for the mushrooms was easy:
  • Brush off any grit or dirt
  • Cut them into relatively uniform pieces (shoot for the largest size possible)
  • Heat a combination of butter and olive oil in a skillet or saute pan
  • When hot, add mushrooms (morels first), sprinkle with salt and saute until tender - this should take about 5 minutes or so
  • Gild the lily if you wish by adding a splash of cream
  • Toss in a little finely chopped parsley
  • Check for salt and pepper and serve
Quantity-wise, I used about a 1/4 pound of each type of mushroom - this was enough for a saucy side dish for two. If you have no cheese souffles at hand, you could also toss these with pasta or serve them over a grilled steak.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunday Night Supper: Risotto

This was Sunday night's supper, courtesy of our Russo's run. We'd had a gluttonous portion of chicken wings for lunch, so I wanted to go a little lighter for dinner.

I bought fava beans and baby artichokes at Russo's. We have a ton of baby garlic growing in the garden, so I decided to use that too. The resulting meal: Fava bean and green garlic risotto with grilled baby artichokes (Yes, Top Chef fans, that is a non-functional garnish, sorry ...).

Making risotto isn't hard, but you do get better at it the more you make it. I am not providing a recipe here, but here is a good basic method. (I strongly recommend that you find any video of Lidia Bastianich making risotto - watching her is a great learning experience).

First, I sauteed minced shallots and green garlic in olive oil. Then I added two cups of rice and sauteed it until it was "toasted" (the rice grain gets pearly and the starch core turns bright white - you know it when you see it).

When the rice is toasted, I added a splash of white wine and cooked it until it all evaporated.

Then, over the next 20 minutes or so, I ladled hot chicken stock over the rice, stirring every now and then. When the rice was tender, I stirred in the favas, some more minced green garlic, a little butter and grated parmesan cheese.

While this was all happening, I steamed the baby artichokes for 10 minutes, then grilled them for about 5 minutes.

Drink of the Week: Kumquat-Basil Cooler

I wanted to get this post up before it was too late for you to find a kumquat. This is a lovely cooler made of Martini & Rossi's Bianco vermouth (not the same thing as dry vermouth, it's spicier, sort of like a poor man's Lillet Blanc), soda water, kumquats and basil.

Ideally, you should use simple syrup for this drink, but if you don't have any, put one teaspoonful of sugar and a splash of water in the bottom of the mixing glass. Swirl to dissolve the sugar then proceed with the muddling.

Kumquat-Basil Cooler (for two)

Muddle together
  • 5 or 6 kumquats
  • 6 sprigs of Thai (regular Italian) basil
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
Add 4 ounces Bianco vermouth and shake with ice to chill.

Strain into tall glasses and top with soda water, garnish with a sprig of basil.

Week of April 20

What a lovely weekend! The sun was shining and it was warm. I spent most of Saturday digging holes in the backyard for all the shrubs and (small) trees I am going to buy. Then I went to two nurseries and their paltry inventories showed that they weren't ready for me yet. (Well, at least the holes are ready ...)

On Sunday we went to Buff's Pub in Newton on a chicken wing pilgrimage. Buff's is about a hour from our house, but, it's about five minutes from Russo's. Russo's is amazing produce market in Watertown, MA. I went for the first time a few weeks ago and will now use any excuse to go back.

Russo's has everything. Three kinds of artichokes, nine (nine!) types of eggplant, fava beans, Kentucky wonder beans, long beans, four types of melon, plus meat, cheese, deli and bakery counters. And reasonably priced. Woo hoo.

So, instead of meal-planning my week, I decided to buy what looked good and then pull meals together based on that. I'll post as I go this week, so you can see what I come up with.

Here's what we bought (we bought a lot!):

  • Artichokes (went into a risotto)
  • Broccoli rabe
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Eggplant (fat Italian ones)
  • Fava beans (also into the risotto)
  • Fennel
  • Mushrooms: Morels and hedgehog
  • Radishes
  • Yu toy (A kind of Chinese broccoli)
Root vegetables:
  • "Creamer" potatoes
  • Baby red potatoes
  • Horseradish root
  • Parsnips
  • Salsify
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Thai Basil
  • Asian pears
  • Charentais melon
  • Kumquats
  • Pineapple quince (gonna make caramels with these!)
  • Rhubarb
  • Bresaola (Italian dried beef)
  • Mortadella
  • Speck (Italian/German ham - like prosciutto, but not quite)
  • Cheeses: Mimolette, Softocenere (truffled cheese), Taleggio

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An Ugly, Easy, Delicious Dinner Salad

So this is not the prettiest thing I've ever put on a plate, but it's insanely easy to pull together and a great healthy, weeknight dinner.

All the ingredients in this lentil salad can be lovely prepared from scratch, however, you can get great results from jarred, bagged and canned ingredients. It could also be much prettier served over or alongside a green salad.

Easy Lentil Salad (as a main course for two)
  • 2 cups of cooked lentils (make your own or use the precooked bagged ones from Trader Joe's)
  • 1/3 cup of chopped roasted red and/or yellow peppers
  • 1/3 cup of chopped hearts of palm or artichoke hearts
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Gently mix the lentils, peppers, hearts of palm (or artichoke hearts) and parsley together. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the salad and drizzle the salad with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir everything together.

Wow, tough huh? Even better, it tastes great after a night in the fridge, so it's a great make ahead for picnics, plane trips, and other such events.

Serve this with nice bread and a few pieces of cheese, or a hardboiled egg, or the aforementioned green salad. Vary the herbs and vegetable mix-ins to taste (another nice option is chopped beets and celery with chopped dill and sherry vinegar).

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm Back

Whoo - talk about an extended hiatus ... I have been working on my new venture and have not been able to muster the energy to blog. A placeholder for my new website is here. More will be coming there soon.

In the meantime, I have been doing a lot of experimenting with new dishes and doing a lot of pastry work. I am currently in love with pastry and am having a lot of fun trying new things out.

This here is a rhubarb galette. I put Meyer lemon zest (thanks Vicki!) in the crust and into the rhubarb. The rhubarb was macerated in turbinado sugar (crunchy brown sugar) and then was folded into a buttery pate brisee.

This Week's Menu
Oven-baked chicken tenders
Roasted red skinned potatoes with garlic
Sauteed green beans with lemon and thyme
Rhubard tart

Sweet pea soup
Grilled sopressata and cheese sandwiches on semolina bread

Fancy-pants dinner out at Ten Center (Chef Showdown - whoo ya!)


Adobo-rubbed grilled pork
Cole slaw
Home-made corn tortillas

Thai basil chicken
Eggplant salad
Cucumber and green apple salad
Steamed jasmine rice

Mushroom pizza
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