Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Earned It!

OK, I said I'd stay away until the New Year rolled around, but I just couldn't resist sharing what a dear friend sent to me in a Christmas card this year:

How cute is that?!
I was never a Girl Scout as a child. I was too busy playing softball, riding horses, and dancing after school to be part of any other organization. Plus I hate uniforms for the most part, as well as people who sell things door to door.
However, I am so very very proud to have earned this honorary Cooking Merit Badge.
At least, I've earned it according to Beth.
And she's a very smart girl.
So I'm just gonna go with it, and it is now hanging in my kitchen!
Thanks again, lady, and Happy Holidays!
(& Happy Birthday Beth!!!!)

And for those of you still snowed-in, I feel your pain. As we were originally snowed-in in NJ, I spent my day making French Onion Soup and roasting 2 chickens. When we finally felt the need to get back home to NYC, it took a Jeep in very slow traffic to a train, which was then shifted off track to another station that it was not supposed to go to (I saw flames on the snow-covered tracks as we passed them but I doubt that was the reason, but still, FLAMES on SNOW-COVERED tracks. WTF?!?!) which lead us to the PATH train as suddenly NJ Transit was not leaving NJ, which then dumped us in the wrong part of Manhattan, and we then walked in the wrong direction carrying 4 bags and 2 cats, as though we were freakin' TOURISTS! 
So we had to take 2 more packed local trains home.
But we made it.
And all is well.
Merry Merry.
Stay warm.
And pay young people to shovel for you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Leftover Gnocchi

You might ask, "Who ever has leftover gnocchi?????"

Well if you have company coming but you're not sure quite when they'll arrive, or how hungry they will be, and your hubby gets overly excited when you send him to the store for gnocchi... sometimes you can cook off too much.

In which case, this is a great way to use the leftovers as a quick side dish.

What you see above is about a teaspoon of duck fat.
The heat in the pan is NOT on.
It's just gloriously melting at room temperature.
However, you should put your heat at about medium high to melt the duck fat and heat the pan.

If you do not have any saved duck fat, say, from a recipe like this one, you could use a combination of butter and oil (so the butter doesn't burn).
You're going to finish this dish with butter as well, so don't use too much oil.

Mmm... bland.
Get your leftover cooked gnocchi well coated in the duck fat, season with salt, and toss every few minutes until browning.

Once your gnocchi is beginning to color, add 1 TBSP of butter to the pan and whatever fresh herb you prefer. 
In this case I used sage because this was the side dish for my porchetta-inspired tenderloin.

When the butter is just starting to brown, turn off the heat and serve immediately.

Garnish with a few fried sage leaves if you feel like showing off, and enjoy your revamped gnocchi.

Note: I hope everyone has a Happy Holiday Season and New Year.
I expect to be too busy between now and New Year's to post anything new, so enjoy yourselves, eat well, hold your loved ones close, party hearty, and please check back come 2011!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Express Porchetta

Craving porchetta but don't have a 4 lb. pork shoulder and 6 - 24 hrs to cook it?

I've got you covered.
You won't get the crispy skin cracklins, but at least you can hit all the flavor notes and quell your craving in about 30 minutes.
If you've got an hour, make this with a 2-3 lb. pork loin and you'll have enough to feed 4-6 people. But I'll write about that one another time.
This version is for a quick cooking 1lb pork tenderloin.

Sauté 1 small shallot (for a tenderloin) finely chopped, and 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced, in the fat of your choice. Olive oil will be the easiest, but if you have extra time, rendering a little pancetta fat will make your dish that much more delicious. (And keep that pancetta for the filling!)
Throw some chopped fresh rosemary (maybe 1 1/2 tsp) into the pan at the end to soften and become more fragrant, and let that cool.

Once more I butterflied the tenderloin and sprinkled 1 tsp ground sage, smoked salt (for more of that BBQ pit flavor, but regular kosher salt is important on the inside as well as the outside of the tenderloin, if you don't have smoked salt), a little black pepper, and only the lightest pinch of fennel pollen.
If you really like fennel, use more. We're fennel light-weights.
Top that with the cooled garlic/shallot/rosemary/pancetta mixture and tie shut.

Awaiting the sautéed goodness
Season the outside with salt and pepper, and sear in a touch of olive oil on medium high. Once fully browned, place in a preheated 425º oven until pink in the center, about 140º.

It's not cracklins, but it's crusty goodness.
Allow to rest about 10 minutes before slicing into it (but don't forget to remove the kitchen twine!)
While it rests, make some gravy.

Turn your pan drippings into the gravy of your choosing. Along with some chopped shallot and garlic, I used fresh sage and rosemary in mine, chicken stock, lemon, just a pinch of fennel pollen, and a pat of butter to finish it.

I served this up with carrots and a side of sautéed gnocchi instead of potatoes.

While it may not be a traditional proper porchetta, it should hit similar bells and whistles for you, and also be delicious in its own right.
And leftovers are fantastic on a crusty ciabatta for lunch!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Secret Holiday Elves!

Oh my gosh!
I got this in the mail today and it came without a note, and tho I eventually found out who sent it to me...(I have an awesome mother-in-law. Thank you Terri!!!!) it was quite a surprise and mystery for a few hours.
I am now slightly more Official, as well as well protected from splatters and spastic hand flailing.

It's a bitchin' apron...
And yes, it was 22º-feels-like-9º in NYC, so I was in full turtleneck-sweater-mode indoors when I tried it on. It's not even officially Winter yet. Eep.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Leftover Lamb Lusciousness

So I apologize in advance because I forgot to take final pictures of this dish! My in-laws arrived safe at last from the airport and we all just sat down so fast that I never even thought of my camera once I'd dropped the pasta.
You'll just have to imagine the luscious end result.

So with all that leftover sauce/stew from the braised lamb shanks, I decided I could turn it into another lovely meal if I just gave it a bit of a face-lift. It's kind of  a cross between stretching leftover stew and a pasta sauce.

I started by peeling and slicing 4 carrots, and setting them in a medium sauce pan with 2 TBS olive oil, 1 tsp of agave nectar, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup of water.
Place the lid on and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the liquids are bubbling & the carrots are softened. Normally at this point I would say, "Cook an additional few minutes until all the water in the pot has boiled off and the carrots are left with a sweet glaze on them."
But this time around I added 2 whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped into chunks, as well as 1 chopped clove of garlic, and once that had become aromatic, a few splashes of beef stock.

I wasn't kidding when I said there wasn't much meat left...
But what there was I finely minced and threw into the pot with the bubbling carrots, tomato and stock.

To that I added enough of the leftover lamb sauce/liquids to serve 4 people, and had salted water at the boil and ready to drop some gnocchi as soon as the fam arrived.
Once the gnocchi float to the top, they're done, so I portioned them out, topped with with the revamped stew mixture, and finished it with a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese to melt into everything and make it brilliant and decadent.
And it was.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Slow-Braised Lamb Shanks

According to the news, this is the coldest streak of weather NYC has seen since last February. In fact, NY1's Pat Kiernan officially gave permission to bitch about how cold it has been all week.
Thanks, Pat...

Frankly, weather like this just makes me want to stay in my apartment and cook warm things for hours.
And then, of course, eat them.
Hopefully by now everyone has recovered from Round 1 of Holiday Indulgence and is once more ready for a hearty dish.
I know I am.

I didn't follow a recipe for this meal. Instead I kind of winged it off of what I did with the red wine-braised short ribs, figuring what's good for beef is good for lamb. At least when it comes to braising.
And you know what?
It worked.
It was really good.
Tho I cannot stress enough the importance of making this a day in advance so it has time to meld and become truly fabulous.

For this recipe I used:
2 lamb shanks
3 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest

In a large heavy bottomed pot, heat 2 TBSP oil and brown your shanks, one at a time.
Remove and allow to rest.
If there are any burnt bits, remove them from the bottom of the pot with a wet towel.
Caramelization is flavor, and you want to keep that.

With just enough oil/fat to about cover the bottom of the pot, add onion and carrots and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes.
Then add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and cook until fragrant, another 2-3 minutes.
I place the peppercorns and bay leaf in cheese cloth or a loose-tea bag for easy removal later.
Add spice bag, lemon zest, crushed tomato, stock, and wine, and submerge the shanks in the liquid.
Bring everything up to a simmer, and then reduce heat to low and cook gently, lid on, for 2 hrs.

Uncover and cook another 30 minutes until the meat is very tender.

Remove shanks and crank the heat on the liquids until they have reduced to your desired thickness. Mine took another 30 minutes or so because I used so much stock and wine.
But then I love having loads of leftover sauce that I may or may not eat in small bowls like the richest consommé... or wateriest stew.
Whatever. It's delicious.
And warm.

Meanwhile, note the bone on the left has offered up its marrow to the sauce, while the one on the right still has marrow inside it.
Delicious on toast.

Return the meat to the reduced sauce, allow to cool, and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
The next day there will be a lot of solidified fat to remove from the surface.
Slowly bring the pot back to a simmer, and serve each shank with a few ladles of sauce and vegetables. 

I chose to serve this with quinoa and some fresher, sweeter carrots to offset the heaviness of the braised ones. This would go well with almost any starch: potato or vegetable mash, polenta, or couscous.
While there wasn't a whole lot of meat left over, there was a LOT of sauce, which I of course snacked on over the course of the next few days.
The rest of the leftovers got  a fancy kick as a pasta sauce, but I'll save that for another post.

This is by no means a perfected recipe, in my hyper-perfectionist opinion. I felt it was missing something to make it truly "wow" worthy. But it is certainly a solid method to follow with highly satisfying results.
Now pardon me while I go camp out by the radiator...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Comfort 102

So a very good friend came over for dinner after WEEKS of scheduling conflicts, and the only thing she really requested of me was that it be low-to-no carb as she had been rather indulgent of late.
(Who hasn't lately?)
I aimed to please.
And also, it is FREEZING out there, so this soup is just right.

(No really, the first day of December was 65 and pouring rain. The 3rd of December was 35-feels-like-24º and it remains as such all week. Major Suckage.
Major Suckage
At least it could have the decency to snow...)

For starters: Silken Vegetable Soup
For main: Shrimp Fra Diavolo

For the soup:
Not unlike my Comfort 101 Chicken Vegetable Soup, this one includes:
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large leek, cleaned and chopped
1 small yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 zucchini, chopped
1 medium yukon gold potato, mostly peeled and cubed
roughly 1 TBSP chopped fresh dill
roughly 1 TBSP chopped fresh thyme
roughly 2 tsps ground savory
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock

Start by dicing all your veg and properly cleaning your leek in a bowl of water to remove any grit. Then dry it in a kitchen towel and decide how you'd like this to play out.

I either roast or pan sauté the zucchini and leeks until just beginning to brown while dealing with the soffritto/mirepoix trifecta. However, you could also roast the carrots so they got a bit of color as well.
I highly suggest this when making winter soups full of root vegetables and squash. It lends a lovely depth of flavor and added richness.

Once the onion, celery, & carrot are all softened, add the lightly browned leek and zucchini into the pot, as well as the garlic and halfof the dill, some salt, and the ground savory, fresh thyme,  & cayenne pepper. Cook another minute or so for the garlic, stirring occasionally.

At this point add the white wine and allow to cook 3-5 minutes.
Then add the chicken stock, potato, bay leaf, and remaining herbs, and allow to simmer, lid-on, for another 30-40 minutes.
(Optional addition of a parmigiano rind before the simmer, for richness.)

Remove the bay leaf and purée soup, preferably with an immersion blender. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

I toasted up some crusty bread with a bit of olive oil, garlic salt, and grated pecorino to serve alongside the soup.
(I mean, I needed SOME carbs in my meal...)

Garnish with fresh dill, and enjoy a very guilt-free soup.

Little did I realize that I make "Fra Diavolo" sauce all the time!
It is basically just tomatoes, red pepper flakes, white wine, garlic, and onion.
I make that ALL the time.
Sauté onion, add garlic, add red pepper flakes, add crushed tomatoes, white wine, salt, basil, reduce.

Before making the sauce I cooked up some shrimp with salt and a pinch of old bay seasoning, quick in a skillet with olive oil, then set aside.
Add the cooked shrimp back into the sauce when you like the consistency.

Garnish with fresh basil.

The perk of serving this low-carb meal is that the soup keeps, and the shrimp fra diavolo leftovers make a lovely dinner over linguine the next evening!

Note: The soup would also be delicious spruced up with some fresh cilantro and smoked chipotle peppers. Another option for the cold months to come.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dessert Fail = Breakfast Brilliance

You'd think since this is the post immediately following the one in which I describe how I perfectly cooked two 14lb turkeys for five people, I would tell you how to do something interesting with all that leftover meat.
Maybe a stew, or soup recipe?
Or curried turkey dinner like the one I made on Tuesday night with the very last of the leftovers?
I'm going to talk about pie.
But I'm not going to tell you how I made the pie. That would be too easy!
(And require me getting the recipe from NJ...)
Instead I'm going to tell you what to do when pie goes wrong.
At least with the crust...

Since the hubs's favorite dessert at the holidays is pumpkin pie, my mother and I made one for him from scratch.
And it was DELICIOUS.

However, our first attempt at pre-baking the pie crust left us with a slightly burnt crust, and we did not want that to be our final product. So we tried again.

My mother was ready to throw away the slightly over-cooked crust, but I would not let her because I have a thing about making use of as many leftovers as possible, and I had an idea for the extra-toasty crust:

I looked in the fridge and found smoked salmon and cream cheese, and instantly had a lovely breakfast planned for the next morning.

Crappy kitchen photography. My bad.
Five eggs for five people, whisked with a hefty splash of cream, seasoned with only a pinch of salt since salmon is salty, pepper, and poured into the crust.
I then used kitchen scissors to snip pieces of smoked salmon into the mix, along with some fresh cilantro (because that was also in the fridge) and little dollops of cream cheese.
Next time I will make it big dollops...
Bake in a preheated 350º oven for about 20 minutes, or until the eggs have set.

It may not be the most picture perfect quiche in the world, but it was tasty, it was quick to assemble, easy to clean up, and allowed me to get on with cooking Turkey #2 before noon.
And the slightly burnt crust was just fine.