Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tilapia with Lemon Thyme

The weather is hot and the tilapia was on sale for just $5.99/lb, so the hubs and I had a light but delicious dinner on the cheap.

For the tilapia:
I started out by seasoning the fish with salt and then lightly dredging it in a bit of flour in order to create more of a crust, as I had decided to sauté the fish in my non-stick frying pan rather than bake it in aromatic liquids and tinfoil in the oven, which is often my modus operandi when it comes to white fish.

I added the fish to the hot pan in a bit of olive oil, and when it was time to flip the fish (opaque halfway through) I added half of a diced shallot to the pan, as well as about a tablespoon of fresh lemon thyme.

If you have never encountered lemon thyme, I suggest you search it out. The smell is so vibrant and... well, lemony, that it brightens any dish right up. I already love to cook with fresh thyme, but this was much more exciting for me.

Once the fish was cooked through I set it aside under some tinfoil to stay warm while I made the sauce which consisted of: olive oil, leftover minced shallot, salt, about a teaspoon of flour (whisked in and cooked for at least a minute before adding), half a cup of white wine (stir and reduce for a few minutes), the juice of one lemon (stir and reduce again) and a finishing of more lemon thyme. Super flavorful and instantly made the tilapia much more interesting.

For the veg: I very thinly sliced one smallish zucchini into rounds and cooked the slices super fast in some olive oil and salt, and finished it with half a teaspoon of lemon zest right before removing it from the pan. The idea was for the zucchini to still taste of fresh zucchini and still have a bit of bite left to it, but not be raw. Another option I suppose would be to blanch it in boiling water, but I wanted to incorporate the lemon zest, so I chose the quick sauté instead.

For the side: Because I had lemon going as a theme throughout, I decided to make a quick and creamy orzo dish. (And it's much more figure-friendly than my favorite orzo concoction.) I also decided to make orzo because if we only ate the fish and zucchini, we would be starving in about an hour or two.
I cooked off the orzo first and set it aside. Then I added some olive oil to the pan and grated one large clove of garlic in and let that simmer for a minute or so. Then I added a splash of white wine (maybe 3 tablespoons?) and let it cook down for a couple minutes. Then I added about the same amount of half & half (or cream, whatever you have in the fridge is fine) and stirred well to combine. (I was eyeballing it all just so I'd have enough to coat the orzo I'd cooked for the two of us, but not enough to make a soupy sauce.)
Add a pinch of salt and check the seasoning before adding the zest of one lemon (minus the small bit used in the zucchini) and then add the cooked pasta back in. Stir to combine, and add any leftover chopped lemon thyme (I had about a teaspoon worth left) and call it tasty.
 And tasty it was.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I've Got Issues

Ok, I am having SERIOUS ISSUES people. For the past week I have been unable to upload new pictures to this blog, and when I try to it tells me there are no other pictures in the blog archive (clearly untrue).

This happened once before, but it sorted itself out within a few days without my having to do anything. But a week is a long time to be frustrated by technology, and I have updated my Safari since having this problem and that did not help either (tho it seemed to fix my slow gmail...)

Additionally, when I try to "share" this blog of late, it keeps going back to the post about the free sample of salt from May instead of the most recent post.

I am not tech-savvy enough to know what the heck is going on. Has anyone else had this problem and can give me a clue as to how to fix it?
Much obliged.
- R&RG

Post Script: Nothing that Google or Blogger Help suggested was terribly effective. However, I tried opening this up with Firefox instead of Safari, and suddenly there was no problem. Fingers crossed things go back to normal on Safari soon, because I prefer it to Firefox, but at least the last four posts I have written up now have their photographic backing.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Breakfast Prosciutto Cups

Having a big brunch party and don't want to have people eating in shifts? I have a delicious solution for you, via Rachael Ray. (I know. She's not my usual resource, but this was a really good idea. Plus she called it "Green Eggs & Ham" which was just cute...)
With this dish you can cook for a dozen (or more) and have everyone sit down at the same time.

I made this over Mother's Day weekend, and even my father, who is much harder to please food-wise than my mother, enjoyed this. He kindly told me after devouring every bite that he did not expect to like it when I put it in front of him. 
The hubs, being a breakfast lover, was truly psyched when I made this for just the two of us one weekend out of the blue. 
Preheat your oven to 375º
I start this by folding slices of prosciutto into cupcake tins. You can substitute deli ham if you prefer... but really, why would you prefer deli ham to prosciutto???
No need to grease the pan, as the natural fat in the prosciutto will allow these little beauties to release on their own.

For the filling I used defrosted chopped spinach, which I sautéed in a pan with olive oil, salt, minced shallot and garlic (half a small shallot and one small clove of garlic), and grated nutmeg (only a fine dusting for one package).  Once the shallot and garlic have softened and the spinach heated through, add about 3 tablespoons of cream or half & half, whatever you have on hand. Let this cook out and combine for just a couple minutes. 

 (Note: if cooking for many people, definitely use boxed frozen spinach. One large container of fresh spinach wilts down to be only enough to fill about 3 cups, and will cost much more. Since this is baked, you will not be able to taste the difference between fresh and frozen at all.)

Then place a spoonful or two of the spinach mixture into each prosciutto cup.
Pat down to create a well.

Into each well crack one egg. Season the top of each cup with a little salt (and pepper if you like pepper).
Note: crack the egg into a separate container and then add it.
Large Note: Do not use Jumbo eggs for this dish. There will be too much egg to fit in the cupcake tin and it will spill over. Stick to large eggs.

Carefully slide your trays into a 375º oven to bake.
For still slightly runny yolks, cook for about 12 minutes.
For fully cook-through yolks, cook for about 18 minutes.
Either way, keep an eye on them as ovens vary.

To remove I simply slide a butter knife around the edge of each prosciutto cup and then lever them out gently. Try to avoid touching the yolk, as you do not want to break the tops.
How cute are they?!
I of course made extra spinach as I like to have vegetables with my eggs/breakfast whenever possible. Serve with some nice toast, maybe a mimosa,  and enjoy your hot breakfast!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Surgeries, Travel, Great Movies, Mini-Golf, Father's Day, & A Hot Pink Mess

It has been something of a madhouse around here lately. Last week my dad had another stent put in, and of course that took 3 days instead of 2 because he was dehydrated and had to stay in the hospital for two nights instead of just one, and my mother stayed with me so she could stay with him before & during the procdure, and then pick him up from the hospital the next day without having to travel back to NJ.

("Why would you move so far uptown? Mike can still commute to the Bronx from below 96th street! It was so nice when you lived nearer your brother down in Gramercy..." Well, I guess living above 96th street has come rather in handy as I am now the way station between Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and NJ.)

My father came through it just fine, but the next day I had to travel to NJ to help my post-major-shoulder-surgery mom shift to their summer digs at the Jersey Shore, as she still can't lift anything with her right arm. So I helped haul bags, a 20 lb. cat, groceries, cat food, cookbooks, camera bags, and do a little cooking and food prep on the side. As a reward for Day 1 of hard work, on Friday night my mom and I  shared a Caprese salad as well as some brie and hard salami while watching Evil Under the Sun, which I have mentioned before as one of my favorite movies of all time.
(I am absolutely naming my next two cats Hercules Parrot and St. Gudrun the Inquisitive in homage to that movie... I guess I'll have to nickname them Parrot and Goody... mayhap I need to put a bit more thought into this.)
Blissfully, after a bit more food shopping and hauling on Day 2, there was also some down time reading a book on the porch to the sound of the ocean, which is pretty much heaven in my mind. The weekend was getting better every day.

Father's Day this year was celebrated, surprisingly, at the boardwalk where we ate horrible food, fried dough, got covered in powdered sugar, and played a round of mini golf.
And guess what?
I WON!!!
I never win at miniature golf. I usually do fairly well, but more often than not I land in the middle of the pack, so having won this game I had to keep the score card for posterity.
(Adorable/Nauseating side story: the first 3 times I played mini golf against the hubs we tied! We even have one of the score cards on our refrigerator as a keepsake. Nerds. Yes.)

If you check the score card above, you will see:
D = Dad - 49
C = me - 41
Mike = hubs - 51
J = my big bro - 47
Mom = self explanitory - 52

Also notice that the hubs, my bro, and my mom all scored a hole-in-one along the way. Nicely done. That is a skill/stroke of luck (ha!) that I don't believe I have ever acquired.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled (and previously written) posting, as I did not take pictures of myself making fish tacos w/ black bean & corn salsa from scratch over the weekend. 
(But it was good. Future post? I think so.)

I really love roasted beets. Their tenderness, their sweetness, the fact that they are full of vitamin C... the only negative would be the fact that they turn you and everything you don't even realize you have touched hot pink. But it's a mess that I will put up with for their tender sweet flesh.
Especially now that Fresh Direct makes a roasted beet "salad" that is delicious and does all the messy work for you. (Ok, not ALL the messy work. The liquid in the container of beets is magenta and will stain everything it touches, so be extra careful when you're prying the lid off should you purchase them...)

While I love roasted beets, I have not really come up with any more enlightened ways of eating them other than in a salad, preferably with a cheese of some sort tossed in the mix.

Which brings me to another Breakfast/Brunch post. Specifically this one.
I made another nice little mesclun salad, dressed it with lemon juice and olive oil and salt, and then topped it with diced beets. I did not, however, have any goat cheese on hand with which to finish the stereotype classic. Instead, that little white dollop you see is fromage blanc, which if you are not familiar with it is actually more of a yogurt in flavor and consistency, but as it is tangy and creamy, it had the desired effect  on the salad once mixed together.
I was so happy with my fluffy scrambled egg the other day that I made another one in order to round out my meal and provide the protein needed to start my day.
Simple, I know, but many good things are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Panko Crusted Skate

My good friend Corrie asked me a while back for a recipe using skate, so I am complying today with what is probably one of the easiest way to cook the fish, although it should probably be finished with a bit of chopped parsley.
I just happen to hate parsley.
Another option would be to make a gremolata to sprinkle on top.
I started out by chopping a number of almonds down into a fine sprinkle.  I only used about a dozen almonds. This was a mistake. I should have used at least twice as many, if not three times. I suggest using much more almond than panko if you actually want to taste the almond.

I also zested half a lemon into the panko crust.
You can see how much more panko I used than almond.
It was enough to encrust three pieces of skate, but if you want to taste the almond, as I said before, use fewer panko flakes and much more chopped almond.

It still looks like an appetizing crust, tho, doesn't it?

I learned tonight that skate is actually part of the ray family.
I presumed before that the "skate wing" was just a fish like a flounder, explaining away the shape that way. My mistake. I can't believe it's a ray!
Or that I find it so much odder to eat a ray than a fish.

I seasoned the skate wings with salt and then dredged them through flour (shake off excess), then beaten egg, and then the above almond/panko/lemon zest crust.
In a hot pan on medium-high, heat a few tablespoons of oil and about 2 tablespoons of butter. When the fats are beginning to sizzle, add your skate wings.
Cook about 3-4 minutes per side, making sure not to crowd the pan. (Crowding only leads to soggy, steamed fish. Ick.)

To finish the dish I squeezed fresh lemon juice over the hot skate and served it right away. 
You do not want to serve cold skate.
Dinner, however, was very tasty.
When the hubs commented that he really liked it and that the fish was in no way "fishy" I simply replied, (pretending to be all knowledgeable) "That's because it was a ray."
Seafood makes you smart.
Or insane from mercury poisoning.
Wonder which way I'll go...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Better White Bean Soup

It's been a busy couple of days, with more busy days to follow. Watching Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast at the D-Lounge on Union Square on Friday night, followed by a great game of Roller Derby on Saturday night. Even tho the Bronx trounced Manhattan score-wise (which I predicted, but also I'm not sure anything shy of a brick wall can stop Bonnie Thunder) it was a really good match.

As you may have noticed (or at least picked up on from reading here) NYC this Spring has been insane. Warm weather crept in as usual, and then we kept flipping between 85-90º weather and 60's and rain. (I for one prefer any weather below 84º be it rain or shine.) This week we actually had somewhat normal June weather (70's) which was a nice break from the insanity, and along those lines,  today dropped to a humid 72º with fairly steady rain, and it put me in the mood for a nice bowl of soup.

I have posted about a simple white bean soup before, but this time I stepped it up a notch or two, and it was really delicious. Warm and soothing without being heavy. I picked this soup because I had all the ingredients on hand already, except for the swiss chard. And yes, I actually went out in the rain (a whopping 2 blocks) to buy the greens so I could make this, because I just did not think that defrosting a box of frozen spinach would be the same in this soup.

2 cans of cannellini beans, puréed (optional)
3 cloves of garlic, grated
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 to 1 cup of white wine
1/4 cup of pancetta cubetti/small dice (use as much as you'd like tho)
1 bunch green swiss chard, or hearty dark green of choice
olive oil
1 TBSP butter
3-4 cups chicken stock
Pecorino Romano, grated

I started out by browning the pancetta in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a dutch oven/stock pot. Once it has browned up and rendered most of its fat, I remove it from the pan and set it aside for later. (I absolutely used more than you see in this photo... I did two batches when I realized my mistake.)

To the oil and rendered fat I add the diced shallot and sauté that until softened, just a few minutes. Then I add the garlic and the butter and cook that for another minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant but not yet browning.
  (You can omit, or add another TBSP of butter when making this, depending on how rich you want the final flavor of the soup to be. I can almost always taste when there is butter in a broth-based soup, since I don't cook with it all that often.)
To that I add between 1/2 and a whole cup of white wine, which picks up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, but then let that reduce for about five minutes so some of the alcohol burns off and the flavor intensifies.

I find so many store-bought chicken stocks to be a bit thin in flavor, so I like the depth the wine adds, especially since I'm not using any fresh herbs in this soup. As with all recipes, you're in your own kitchen and you can add or omit anything you wish.

At this point I added the puréed beans to the pot. (It's just a personal thing for me. I dislike biting into whole beans in soups.) Season with salt and pepper to taste (lightly, remembering the salt from the pancetta) and add as much chicken stock as you like to make your soup however thick or thin you like. I used about 3 1/2 cups.

Once that has come up to a simmer, I add the chopped swiss chard and add the pancetta back into the pot as well. I also throw about half a cup of grated pecorino romano into the pot at this point, and let the whole thing simmer and meld on low for another half an hour or so.

A note on the swiss chard: if you have never used it before, you want to gently pull the greens away from the center vein in each leaf. Discard the stems/veins and chop the greens into reasonably sized pieces.
Special Note: Make sure that when you are gathering these large leaves together and chopping through them that you can see ALL FIVE FINGERS before you bring your knife down. In the attempt to control the giant pile of leaves, it would be only too easy to cover your thumb and bring your knife right down on it. (This note is not from experience, but the thought flashed through my mind as I was chopping and made me shudder.)
It's too bad the greens change from their vibrant color to a muddy green, but that's just the way of cooked greens.

When serving this up, I have two suggestions for garnish. One is simply more grated pecorino romano cheese, as it is a perfect topping for so many things, and this soup is no exception.
The other item that I found delicious for finishing this soup was Smoked Chipotle Sea Salt from Secret Stash Salts. It added a really nice kick and extra dimension. But also a reason to make sure you do not over-salt while cooking the soup, what with using pancetta and a salty cheese.

As I said, very soothing on a rainy afternoon/night, and also a mostly healthy meal full of greens, fiber, and protein. All the things a Gotham Girl needs to get by. That, and a vicious Booty Block/Pop Tart move.

(It's true, I can only aspire to the awesomeness that is Suzy Hotrod, Beyonslay, and the other amazing athletes that are true Gotham Girls Roller Derby skaters. If you ever have the chance, try to catch one of their bouts at Hunter College on the UES. You won't regret it. Even tho the hubs and I miss when the bouts were back in the Bronx and they served cheesy nachos... but only the hubs misses the nachos.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Linguine with Ramps

Following the logic of cooking with seasonal foods, I have finally gotten around to cooking with ramps. After making a delicious pizza, I still had quite a few ramps left over, so I decided to turn them into a pasta dinner that was kind of a spin on pasta aglio e olio.

First I thoroughly washed the ramps, cut off the roots, removed any loose outer layer of the bulb, and then separated the leaves from the bulbs. I gave the bulbs a fine dice, and added them to a hot pan that already had a couple tablespoons of olive oil and about a teaspoon of anchovy paste melting into it.
(While all of this is happening, I have already dropped some linguine in salted boiling water.)
I had the heat on medium low, so the "sauce" would come together slowly and gently.  To the diced ramp bulbs I added a pinch of red pepper flakes.
After the ramps had started to become fragrant, I added some prosciutto cubetti (I had barely two tablespoons left in the fridge and decided they would be a nice addition to the dish.)
(I also realized I didn't have quite enough oil in the pan at this point and added a bit more. Remember, you need to have enough to just coat your pasta, and the ramps will absorb some of what you put in the pan. Also, prosciutto does not render fat the same way pancetta does, so keep that in mind if you add either to your dish.)
For the ramp leaves, I took the larger ones and sliced them down the middle, but otherwise cut them all crosswise into thirds. When the pasta had about 2-3 minutes left to cook, I added the ramp leaves to the pan and seasoned with salt.
After they wilted down, I finished the mix with a pat of butter.
Adding the pasta to the pan for the last minute of cooking, I also added 1-2 ladles of pasta water to the pan, along with a hearty handful of grated pecorino romano to complete the sauce.
I was very pleased with this dish, although many of the tasty bits kind of sat at the bottom of the bowl, so it's possible that it would benefit from a different shaped pasta, such as orecchiette, or maybe an orzo.
Definitely tasty tho, and a nice Spring twist on a Winter comfort food.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coney Island

So it is deeeezguuuzting in NYC today (Sunday). Roughly 90 degrees out and the only thing to be done is to hide in the living room watching movies with the AC cranked. Thankfully I convinced the hubs to help me install the AC in our living room window on Thursday night, so we are camping out on the couch until the temperature breaks.
(Seriously, Mother Nature, it is only JUNE and you have been cranking the heat for weeks. Please remember how lovely the mid 60-70º weather can be and give us a little break... at this rate August will either be 105º or 60º...)

We did venture out yesterday tho, as it was the 30th birthday of a good friend of mine from college and she decided the best way to celebrate was to go to Coney Island.
She was at least partially right. I think the correct sentiment is: The best way to go to Coney Island is on your birthday, because then everyone gives you all the tickets they win at Skeeball and every other game they play.
Skeeball crew
And once you trade in the 750 tickets your friends have won for you, you can get a fantastically hideous peacock candlestick to always remember your 30th birthday by. 
(You know that thing will be priceless to you by the time you're 50...)

 They'll also give you any stuffed toys they win in the claw machine, and the hubs let her pick the giant prize when we all played the water-gun race game thing and he won, as he rightly should have. 
(Note: he has never won me anything.) 
She got a giant Hello Kitty. 
(I believe she gave away Hello Kitty around 11PM to someone at the Brooklyn Museum Dance Party. I hope they appreciate their prize.)
And of course, when in Coney Island, you must eat at the Original Nathan's hot dog joint.
 Note: that is not the one actually on the boardwalk, but one block inland.
(Another note: never order their lobster roll. It is vile. Stick w/ the hot dogs and fries.)
My favorite thing by far that I had to eat was a soft-serve chocolate ice cream that actually had flecks of chocolate throughout it. 
It was perfection on a hot day. 

Before we really got to the boardwalk portion of Coney Island, we started the birthday jaunt off with a ride on the historic wooden roller coaster The Cyclone, which will be 83 years old at the end of June. 

I had not ridden a roller coaster in the last decade. Growing up I rode many roller coasters, from little ones on NJ boardwalks, to Disney world rides, to Six Flags super coasters, but I think I actually went through the whole of my twenties without riding one. 
And now, at 30, I may never ride another roller coaster so long as I live.

Don't get me wrong, the ride itself was exhilarating and fun. However, an 83 year old wooden roller coaster seems to have a grudge against the humans riding it. Especially if you have neck or spinal injuries/issues. (I have had bad whiplash twice, and the vertebrae in my neck grew arching the wrong way, causing regular back pain and headaches, shoulder issues, etc.. However, none of this kept me off roller coasters when younger. I always came out perfectly fine.)
This coaster actually tried to crush my head straight down through and into my sternum, making me about 5 inches shorter than usual. I do not remember ANY coaster doing this to me in the past, but I am typing this blog post from traction. Or at least I should be, as there is only one standing position that does not cause me pain today.
So, kiddies, learn from me. If you have any kind of back or neck issues, just be the nice friend who takes the pictures and holds the purses while everyone else has fun on The Cyclone.
(I'm 30 and I sound like I'm 80. Le sigh.)

I did not have any issues with the Wonder Wheel though, which is that bright thing I was trying to take a picture of from the subway on our way home.
And if you ride on it, I suggest riding in the swinging cages, rather than the stationary ones. Much more exciting. See?

As with so many rides, it's kind of a rip off to just ride a slow wheel around once w/ stops and once all the way around, but now I can say I have ridden on two historical monuments in Coney Island. 
Can you say that?
Well I know you can, I wasn't talking to you.
But you, in the blue top.
You know you can't say that, so don't even try.

Anyway, Summer is clearly upon us, and the world is flocking to waterfronts to beat the heat.
But today, I'm sticking with AC so I don't stick to the couch.
At least until whatever tornado (yes, there is a tornado watch in effect in NYC right now) or thunder storm comes through to break the heat.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pasta with Spring Vegetables & Mint

Fresh asparagus and leftover prosciutto... how to make it a meal that isn't just wrapping prosciutto around the asparagus spears?
Like so.
Put your pot of water on to boil for your pasta, and start on the rest of the ingredients.
Arty shot of trimmed asparagus and fresh mint... or so attempted.
I sliced the asparagus very thinly on an angle, and chopped up the mint, ready for future use.

Sautéing two cloves of garlic in olive oil, I then added the sliced asparagus, seasoned them with salt, and cooked them for about 5 minutes, until they had started to get tender, but still had a bit of bite left.
Remove the asparagus and set aside.

To the garlic and oil I then added about 3/4 of a cup of chicken stock, and set that to reduce a bit.
About 5 minutes later I added 1/2 a cup of cream and let the sauce continue to reduce. 
While this was happening, the pasta was cooking in heavily salted water, and I had set some slices of prosciutto on a sheet pan in the oven. 

In a 375º oven, I crisped up some prosciutto.
Unfortunately I let it crisp a little too long.
Keep an eye on your oven, and remove your prosciutto before it looks like this!
Back to the sauce.
When it began to thicken, I added 2 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese and about a handful of grated pecorino into the mix. 
(I know. I'm going to need a mascarpone intervention soon...)
Add the chopped fresh mint and check for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.
I then added a handful or two of frozen baby peas into the mix, and let them warm through, followed by the asparagus back in the pot, and then the cooked pasta. Stir to combine and allow the sauce to infiltrate the pasta.
(Infiltrate? WTF? Dinner is not War. Infuse. Allow the sauce to INFUSE the pasta. Geez, brain.)
At this point I thought it was still missing something, so I added the zest of half a lemon. 

Using NON-burnt prosciutto, I sprinkled that on top last, dished everything up, and topped it with more fresh mint and prosciutto crumbles.
Very tasty indeed.

And yes, I used elbow macaroni.
Sometimes you just have to use what is on hand, even if it isn't as fancy and ideal as orrecchiette.
And as though there isn't already enough cheese and cream in this dish, I think the final product would be even tastier with some crumbled ricotta salata as a finishing flourish.
If you have it, go for it!