Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cauliflower Concoctions

I have so many ideas for blog posts, and so few days when I'm feeling articulate enough to really write more than just a bald step-by-step. At some point I am going to delve into palates and how they can change and expand as you grow up and have more varied experiences. Along those lines, there are foods I would not touch with a ten foot pole when I was a child, and now I eat them with relish.
And no, I don't mean that pickled crap people put on sausages and hot dogs.
I still won't touch that stuff.

My most recent experiment in palate expansion involved cauliflower.
Even tho I just ate it, my knee-jerk reaction is still, ''blech!"
I can't help it.
It probably didn't help that in college I did a play in which there had to be a brain in formaldehyde on a doctor's desk, and to create the "brain" the prop master (hi Krainin!) used a head of cauliflower in a large jar of water colored with a yellow highlighter, and MAN did that thing start to stink after a couple days. The Green Room had that funk for weeks.

A lot of people equate broccoli with cauliflower, and I just have to say, they are wrong. That is like saying carrots and parsnips taste the same. They don't! (But they are both delicious.)
As a child I always ate broccoli, whether raw in a crudité platter, steamed or grilled, roasted, whatever. My mother still won't touch the stuff, but I love it. However, you could not get me to eat cauliflower. It was bland, it was icky, it was white!! Everyone knows that nothing healthy is ever white! So why make me eat it? 
(No one actually did force me to eat it, since no one in my family ate the stuff. I'm just making a point.)

So WHY I got it in my head to try eating cauliflower again is beyond me, but I decided to give it a go. And you know what? With the right preparation, it's not bad. It's not my favorite, but I can make it perfectly edible.
I prepared it two really really basic ways, and sneakily fed it to the hubs to see if he'd eat it, without telling him what I was doing. (So trusting!) He seemed to find it perfectly tasty.

Image borrowed from cuz I didn't take a pic of mine...
Method One - standard roasting in the oven.
I cut up some of the florets (damn does that stuff grow tightly packed!) and drizzled them with olive oil and salt, threw them in a 400º oven for 20 minutes. They came out browned and crispy, and perfectly tasty. I popped a piece in Mike's mouth, sort of without him seeing what I was giving him, and his response? "Tastes like broccoli."
Not exactly what I thought, but good enough, considering that that style of preparation is the only way I get the hubs to eat broccoli. And he actually likes it that way. Not just "will eat" it.
My own thoughts? Nice light char taste, the salt helps, and the only thing that gets me is the texture. Cauliflower just has such a weird texture. That right there may have been 50% of why I never liked it before.

Method Two - mash that sucker up with a bunch of potatoes and cheese. Oh yes.

I sliced up two yukon gold potatoes, put them in cold water and brought it up to a boil until fork-tender. For the cauliflower, I did not like the idea of boiling. The only vegetable I will actually boil IS a potato that is being prepped for mashing. So, I steamed the cauliflower for 15 minutes on the stovetop, until tender.

Giant bowl of steaming-hot white vegetables.
To this I added about 1/4 cup of fresh ricotta cheese, some salt, and later a decent handful of grated pecorino romano cheese. (Instead I might have used some garlic salt, but I only thought of that after I'd added the cheese, and that would have been too much salt. Maybe next time. But it needed something with flavor to it. Like a small head of mashed roasted garlic!)

Mashed all together it looked like this. 
Had I been worried about presentation, I would have snipped some fresh chives on top for both color and flavor.
Clearly, I was lazy.
Looks aside, it tasted pretty good. Creamy and cheesy and potato-y, tho I could still sense the texture of the cauliflower. I was just too lazy to haul out (and then clean) the food processor, which would have eliminated the texture of the cauliflower.

Note: good way to hide your vegetables from finicky kids - mashed potato purées like this one. Of course, it only works with other white foods like cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, and celery root. 
But the best ways to fool a finicky kid into eating veggies is to add them to mashed potatoes, cover them in cheese (neither of which is terribly healthy...) or purée them into tomato sauce over pasta.

If I wasn't trying to serve this to the hubs as well, I might have used sour cream to create a similarly tasty and creamy side dish with a slightly different flair, but sour cream is on the list of Things Mike Won't Eat, so I'll have to store up that idea for some time I have chosen to make this for just myself.
Which I so don't see happening... too much food for little ol' me.
But maybe one of you will want to try it that way.

Ah, the ubiquitous photo of sautéing shallot.
To go along with our cauliflower experiments, I made a super simple chicken cutlet. 
(Totally didn't realize I was defrosting cutlets instead of breasts when I took them out of the freezer yesterday... whoops.) 
(I don't even know why I bought cutlets in the first place... must have been on sale.)

Super fast pan gravy using the browned shallots and garlic, a little flour whisked in, salt, and a splash of white wine & lemon. If you care enough, crush some dried thyme in there as well. Crank on high until it comes together.
(Sounds remarkably close to Picatta, doesn't it? I didn't realize I'd essentially been making a version of Chicken Picatta as my go-to pan sauce all these years...)

Dinner done.
And I totally ate all the (not pictured) roasted cauliflower as a snack while cooking the rest of dinner.
The reason for the slap-dash chicken is that I cooked this the same day that I made another successful batch of the Julia Child version of French Onion Soup. So I was exhausted from cooking that for 2+ hrs, and then experimenting with cauliflower. The chicken was a total cop-out protein.
But it was still tasty :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lemon Caper Chicken: Picatta Without the Pounding

Because really, who wouldn't prefer a juicy chicken breast over a pounded-flat cutlet?

I have never really understood the point of pounding a perfectly good cut of meat into a flattened piece of jerky. Sure, it will cook in 2-3 minutes per side, but it's a FLAT PIECE OF MEAT! You have literally beaten the plumpness and juiciness out of it. Really, no thank you.
Keep your schnitzel to yourself.
So for this I pat two boneless skinless chicken breasts dry (always important) and then seasoned them with salt, ground savory, and a little sweet paprika. I then dusted them with flour. (Really, it's much tastier to season them before the flour, rather than seasoning your flour. You need SO MUCH MORE seasoning if you're mixing it with the flour...) Cook in olive oil until opaque all the way through. 
These were rather small chicken breasts, so they only took about 6 minutes on the first side and 4 1/2 on the second.

Once you have removed the chicken breasts to rest it is time for the sauce.
Add another glug or two of olive oil to your pan and add 1 diced shallot. Cook until translucent.
Then add 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced/grated, maybe a teaspoon of flour, and cook an additional 30 seconds to bring it all together.
Next add 1/4 cup white wine, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and roughly 1/4 cup of chicken stock.
Add salt to season, about a teaspoon of fresh chopped thyme, and roughly 2 TBSP of drained capers.

Bring this mixture to a simmer and reduce down to a thick, velvety sauce. (Optional finishing touch of a pat of butter to make the sauce extra indulgent.)
It should be a bit salty from the capers, a bit bright from the lemon, and a bit rich from the wine and stock.

I served mine with some pan-roasted carrots (just searched my site for the recipe and did not find it... apparently I need to work on that!) and a leek and white bean purée.
It was delicious.

Also, it was fairly quick cooking, which is a good thing to consider when the weather has been as close, muggy, humid, and downright pouring-rain wet as it has been in NYC the last few days.
And guess what?
There's ANOTHER tornado watch in effect for this evening!
WTF weather patterns?
The East Coast gets hurricanes.
The middle of the country gets tornados.
The West Coast gets earthquakes, brush fires, and mudslides.
Quit messing with the system!
Fingers crossed my next post does not come to you from Kansas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Spanican Chicken

First full day of Fall in NYC and the weather is still hitting 80º for the high. Tomorrow* it's supposed to be 85º!!! Apparently, what with the killer heat all Summer and tornado last week, Mother Nature is still miffed at us. And again, I don't really blame her, but it remains confusing. 

*Hey, Sassy. I know I'm seeing you tonight, but now you know what the weather will be like tomorrow, so ditch the sweater dresses until you're back from Italy! (Ya lucky stinker...)

After our delicious Mexican meal at El Vez the hubs and I were craving those fabulous flavors again. So, I tried to make a rub for our chicken that would in some way satisfy our taste buds with what I already had in my spice cabinet.
Remember: the hubs will not eat avocado, sour cream, cold tomato salsa, etc., so I couldn't make this all that authentic of a meal. However, the finished product would have gone brilliantly with some guacamole.

I have no idea if I was making something that was more Mexican or more Spanish in style, so, this is Spanican Chicken!
Please, no one be offended by my attempts outside my comfort zone of cooking.
I mixed the following herbs and spices together in various pinches:
chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, coriander, smoked spanish paprika, and ground cloves.
Once I was happy with that mixture I added one large grated clove of garlic, and just enough olive oil to make it into a paste with which to paint the chicken.

Is that a beautiful color or what?
Let the chicken marinate for a couple hours so the flavors can really infuse the chicken.
Also, I did not salt the chicken until right before cooking.

While I was cooking the chicken I decided that a side of black beans would go brilliantly with the dish, so once the chicken was done, I added half a can of drained black bean soup. (Yes, Goya's black bean soup. Not just canned black beans. I sifted the beans out. I did not dump the soup liquid. That is some tasty stuff! Also, it is what I had when I looked in my pantry... it's a TOTAL cheat, but a really delicious one.) I heated the black beans through in the flavorful oil left after cooking the chicken, and added about a tablespoon of dry sherry to the pan for an extra kick. 
Note: If using canned black beans (and thereby also cooking with onion, garlic, seasonings, etc) I would definitely do this again. However, if using black bean soup, I'd skip it as it is already quite flavorful.

Top with minced raw onion or shallot when serving.

A side of roasted potatoes, and dinner was well rounded and very tasty.
No where NEAR as tasty as the meal at El Vez, but it was a valiant effort, if I do say so myself.
And, obviously, I do.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fettuccine with Leeks & Prosciutto

Have you ever spent too much of one afternoon like a sloth on the couch watching Cooking Channel and Travel Channel shows and suddenly desiring whatever you've been staring at for the past hour? And then you realize that you don't have homemade pasta that is light as air, or a perfectly cooked loin of venison, or wild boar ragú, or the best Pressed Duck in NYC, or... or... or...
Because that happens to me frequently.
And it really frustrates me.

On this particular occasion I was craving pasta, and upon scrounging through investigating my refrigerator I found the following:
one medium leek
half a package of diced prosciutto
fresh thyme
open box of chicken stock
white wine

And of course, I had dried pasta and garlic on hand. Dinner was in the offing.
One sliced leek, one clove of garlic, and a bit shy of a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme.

Sautée the leek in olive oil until soft and just starting to brown, and add minced/grated garlic clove.
Add cubetti to get a bit of color on them as well.
Season with salt (not too much because of the prosciutto) and throw in chopped thyme.

Use about 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze, and a couple glugs of chicken stock.
Cook to reduce.
Add pasta.

Garnish with a bit of grated cheese and devour.

Note: This did not make the thickest or richest of sauces, but it was lovely and delicate in flavor, and you should try it with a short pasta such as orecchiette, fusilli (which I loved as a kid), or cavatappi. I happened to only have long ribbons in my pantry at the time, hence the fettuccine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Comfort 101

Ok, guys, I'm REALLY happy that the temperature is holding steady at a comfortable 65-75º these days. Not only is it nice to walk around in jeans and sneakers again, I can indulge in soups and comfort foods again! Yay!!!!
(That is, when there are no tornados passing through...)

This winter I plan to make far more low-and-slow meals. My dutch oven will have pride of place on my stovetop instead of my non-stick skillet! I'm going to cook shanks of things, and they will be delicious!
(I hope. If I don't get too lazy...)

So to start things off, I'm doing the most basic of comfort foods for me: chicken vegetable soup.
Not only is it healthy and warm and full of comfort, it's also a great way to use up leftover vegetables from your crisper.

Not that I store my vegetables in the crisper.
I keep my champagne in the crisper.
Priorities, people.
Not pictured: most things in the Universe a potato
So this was really straightforward soup. I diced the onion, leek, 2 celery ribs, three (peeled) carrots, and let them soften in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, seasoned with a bit of salt.

Most people will tell you to just cook the veggies until they have sweat out a bit, but I like to push them until they have a little color starting on them. I think it gives the finished product a richer taste.
You could also accomplish that by roasting your veggies in the oven, particularly carrots or squash.

I added the chopped zucchini and the 2 cloves of garlic I ran across a microplane so they'd be invisible, and about a teaspoon and a half of chopped fresh thyme. Add a splash (1/4 cup) of white wine to pick up any brown bits, and then throw in about 3-4 cups of your favorite chicken stock.
I peeled and diced one medium sized Yukon gold potato,  (That one potato managed to get into EVERY bite of soup I ate in every bowl. It was magic.) threw in a bit of Parmigiano rind and 1 bay leaf, brought the whole soup up to a boil, and then let it simmer for about half an hour.
Checking my seasoning and adding a bit more salt, I garnished with some fresh basil (because I didn't have any dill) and served it with some crusty bread.

You may notice that there is no actual chicken in my Chicken Vegetable Soup, and that is simply because a) I did not have any on hand, and b) I frequently find the chicken part of any chicken soup to be the least pleasant part. It is almost always tough and somehow dry even tho it is immersed in liquid.
Go figure.
Replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock, and you can just call this a light vegetable soup. But I like both the flavor, the residual healthful benefits, and the psychosomatic response of eating chicken broth. It makes me happy.

What would make me even happier would be to use whatever chicken stock the Soup Stop on Columbus Ave uses, because their Chicken Noodle Soup is the best I have tasted anywhere, and as it only has 5 visible ingredients (chicken, carrot, celery, onion, & pasta) they must have some killer stock.
If they make it themselves, I must find out their secret.
And of course, unlike my own satisfying homemade soup, I can get theirs delivered to my door within 15 minutes. Instant gratification has its place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer's Over = Back to Karaoke

 Well, I didn't wake up drunk, but it did take most of Tuesday for me to feel like a human again.

I think I got home around 4AM-ish. But I had long since stopped looking at clocks by the time I was singing at the second bar.

Just to keep up the Rock'n'Roll half of this blog, a brief recap:

Fade Into You - Mazzy Star
Heaven - Warrant (for laughs)
Time Is Running Out - Muse
Hunger Strike - Temple of the Dog
Man In The Box - Alice in Chains
Crazy On You - Heart
Gloria - Laura Branigan

I really do fall back on a lot of 80's and 90's music... and it was absolutely worth staying out until after 4AM because I got to see a bunch of friends I haven't seen in months.

Once I was feeling like a human again (steak helped...) I went for an early evening bike ride along the river with the marathon-training hubs.
So I shall leave you with a few lovely pictures from the gloaming of the day.

I just really like rocky embankments

Honk Honk

Someone could photoshop these branches into lightning

Metropolitan Tide Pool

Goodnight Moon

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pork-tastic Saturday

This weekend served up a really wonderful Saturday.

The hubs and I slept in, watching a little streaming Netflix, got around to making ourselves clean and presentable, and then trekked down to the East Village to finally partake of the porchetta (por-KHET-ah) sandwich at the deservingly praised Porchetta on E 7th St.
(I had been telling the hubs about this place "he would love" for over a year. Then it was referenced on a segment on Cooking Channel or Travel Channel, or whatever I had on in the background, and suddenly he wanted to go! Well? It lived up to its hype. Better late than never.)
Image swiped borrowed from TONY

We each ordered the porchetta sandwich ($10), as opposed to the porchetta plate which comes w/ sautéed greens and cannellini beans. I have to say, it really was a decadent and yet beautifully balanced sandwich.

I'll start with the roll. Rolls are one of those things that I frequently dissect and avoid eating any excess of, because in my mind, most rolls are boring and are just empty carbs. (I'd rather save my carbs for pasta!) This roll is a proper Italian ciabatta, meaning it is crusty, yet chewy, and you really feel your jaw working as you savor your sandwich. I did not leave any leftover bread on my plate.

Stolen Borrowed from another blogger... I didn't have a camera!
Now the actual meat. Porchetta is loin of pork, wrapped in a mixture of herbs and spices, usually including at the simplest level garlic and rosemary, and this time extras like wild fennel pollen, thyme, and sage, and then THAT is wrapped in pork belly (a.k.a. where bacon and pancetta come from), which is then scored and set to roast low and slow for many hours.
And dang if this one wasn't perfectly done.
The meat was moist without being super juicy, and in alternate bites I could taste roasted pork, crispy skin w/ a fatty underside, flavorful herbs, and even really good olive oil at times. (Possibly from whatever they spread on the bread?) It was in no way a salty sandwich either, which is what I think of when I picture American Hams and such. I only took two sips of water the whole time I was eating because I was just enjoying the sandwich.
That's not to say that a sparkling glass of the Marquis wouldn't have finished it off to perfection, but still, it was a fantastic sandwich, and just the right size so that I (of grazing habits) was completely sated without feeling like I had a lead weight in my gut. The hubs had a black cherry soda, which had a nice sweetness to cut the richness.
(Note: if you get the Bruce Cost ginger ale, be prepared for some SPICY ginger in your soda. I had this once somewhere else and while it was good, it practically burned my throat from the real raw ginger in it. I did not want that overpowering my porchetta experience.)

After wandering in a delightful pork-induced trance and watching the puppies run around in Tompkins Square Park, we headed toward the West Village through a few street fairs and aimed for another of my absolute favorite places in NYC to eat, Alta.

However, we were not going in order to enjoy their delicious array of tapas, as our appetites had already been sated. We were going solely for the sangria. The red sangria, to be specific.
I am not a big fan of sangria in general, because it is usually made with a cheap wine that would not taste very good on its own, and then of all things people add peach schnapps/brandy, and I truly loathe the flavor of peach. Keep your fuzzy navels under your shirts, thank you.
That said, whatever jug of wine they use at Alta, and whatever mystery ingredients (definitely some sweet syrupy stuff going on) may be in the plastic bottle (the menu actually says they "could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you), they concoct one kick-ass glass of sangria. And it really will knock you on your ass if you're not careful, because that stuff is STRONG!
And while I'd rather it be a less costly drink, it really is worth the $12 because it is definitely a glass of happy at the end of the day.

And of course, because we couldn't enjoy a truly pork-tastic day with only one (albeit great) pork dish, so we ordered a plate of bacon-wrapped dates to offset the sweetness of our sangrias. And as always, they were sublime. I could eat buckets of them.

If you're in NYC, I'd recommend either location (tho note that Porchetta is super small and designed more for take-out than eating-in), but as always, try not to be in line in front of me ;)

P.S. - If you're really into walking-while-eating and eating delicious yet dietarily-questionable foods, hop about 3 blocks NE of Porchetta and enjoy a piping hot cone of pomme frites, at a previously blogged location, Pomme Frites!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Twist on Chicken Parm

It's finally cool enough to cook again! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!
And to take really hot showers again!!! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!
(I really have missed both of those things for the past 4 months or so...)

The hubs, who is once more training for the NYC Marathon, is allowing me to ride my new bicycle (first new bike since I was about 12 or so!!!) along side him while he runs, and this morning we did a 6.5 mile circuit, turning around within about 15 blocks of the George Washington Bridge. I felt quite virtuous for not only getting outside, but exercising to boot. (Usually me = sloth)
So, I am rewarding myself with curling up with a book while enjoying a fresh batch of asparagus soup. Bring on the fuzzy socks!
Tho I guess before the fuzzy socks, I should actually write about food... OK.

I have definitely shown you this version of cooking grape tomatoes before. Just to show how many ways you can use them, I decided to make chicken parm out of an extra package of tomatoes I bought.

In a pot with a good drizzle of olive oil, on medium high heat, add your tomatoes and place the lid on top. Cook until you hear the tomatoes bursting.

Once they have burst, I season with salt and add one to two cloves of garlic (depending on size and your taste), grated on a microplane. (Lower the heat to medium.) After the garlic has cooked a bit, I add a splash of white wine and then use a potato masher to crush the remaining bits of tomato.

I cook the sauce down another few minutes to make sure all the flavors combine and that the wine cooks out a bit.

While all of that is happening, I cooked up some chicken breasts in olive oil with minced shallot and seasoned with salt. For basics on how to cook chicken, read my Cooking Basics post, specifically scan down to the part on Meat.

When the chicken is about 2 minutes from completely cooked through, I placed slices of fresh mozzarella over the chicken, added a lid to the pan, and melted it down.
You could employ a broiler here instead, but I thought the lid would be faster.

I transfered the mozzarella-covered chicken breasts to plates, and shaved some fresh parmigiano reggiano over the top. Next I ladled some of the tomato sauce over the top.
Grate a little more parmigiano reggiano over that, and sprinkle with fresh basil.

A tasty & healthy spin on a classic.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gelato = Happiness In A Cup

I hope you all had a lovely labor day weekend. The hubs and I spent ours mostly chilling on our roof deck or on the couch catching up on recorded TV, with nary a BBQ rib in sight. (How totally Un-American of us. Watch out! Some Tea Party Twit is going to find this and launch an attack on all foodies for their Un-American appreciation of other cultures, ergo they must all be Socialists! Oh no!)

Where was I?
Oh, right, the couch.
But also wandering around the city, running errands, and cleaning the apartment and moving furniture so some stranger can spray poison around my apartment to prevent bed bugs moving down here from the upstairs neighbors, who apparently have them. Ick.
(I have to remove my cats for 4 hrs so they don't breathe the poison... and I don't have a car in which to go somewhere... and I don't have a friend living within 90 blocks of me to hang out with... so I'm going to have to haul them on foot to the park and be A Crazy Lady in the park w/ two cat carriers and a book (right side up, so you know I'm a sane/safe one) and try not to be bored out of my skull sitting on a bench for four hours...FUN!)

Did I have a point or was this just a post full of tangents?
No wait, I DID have a point!
While wandering the city, the hubs and I decided to walk the 40-odd blocks home from Columbus Circle because it was actually a lovely day in the mid-70's. On our way uptown I finally stopped in at a legitimate gelateria (legitimate = totally sourced from Italy and done right. You WILL notice the difference!) called Grom that opened about two years ago and that I have been really wanting to go to.

Hubs: Do you want to stop for gelato?
Me: Of course! Yay!
Me: So why did it take until the first day below 96º for me to finally go out for gelato?
Hubs: Because you don't leave the house when it's 96º out.
Me: Touché

From NYU mag of all places
Not like this place needs more publicity, because there is almost always a line outside the door, but it is really, really, really good stuff. At first you look at the prices and say, "$5 for a small?!?! Are you nuts?!" but then you get over that when you take your first bite of rich creamy goodness. A small is two scoops, so I got one of the Bacio (basically nutella in gelato form. swoon.) and one of Torroncino ("nougat" flavor, made from hazelnuts and honey) and I was in heaven. Totally blissed out. The hubs picked Cioccolato Fondente (super rich!) and Crema di Grom, which is like an egg cream flavor w/ chocolate chips. He just barely shared a bite of each with me.

I shall be treating myself more often in the future, no matter the temperature out. I'd say that you should too... but only if you're in line behind me ;)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Win My Schtick

So, would you enter to win things from my blog if I sold my soul agreed to work with some company to purvey their goods and wares?
Because this is the second time that I have been approached, and really, I didn't think with my whopping 50 official followers that anyone would want to see that happen...
Or maybe you would because the chances of you winning are REALLY good!

So, I ask all those silent enjoyers of my wit and cooking to step up and voice their opinion. Would you like to win pots and pans and bedding sets and whisks and so forth?
Do tell.
Go for it.