Monday, February 28, 2011

Crisper Primavera

This meal came about when I had no protein in the fridge come dinner time, and less than one serving of all of the following vegetables: snow peas, haricot vert (French green beans), broccoli, and brussels sprouts. All leftovers from stir-fry dinners and side dishes. I also had half a can of crushed tomatoes in the fridge, so I decided to make a version of pasta primavera from my crisper drawer.

I start out sautéing 1 large shallot, diced, in a bit of olive oil. As it starts to soften I add some broccoli florets, as they will take the longest to become tender.
Make sure you have your water boiling for your pasta when you make this, as the sauce does not take much more than 10 minutes to come together.

Next I add 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of prosciutto cubetti (because I had some in the deli drawer), and the trimmed haricot vert cut in half.
Once the prosciutto has started to cook and the garlic becomes fragrant, I added a small splash of white wine, and about 1/4 cup of chicken stock.

To those liquids I added about 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes from a can (classic Primavera would have fresh tomato, but as it is February, canned will have to suffice) and turned the temperature to medium high to reduce. I also threw in about a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme and seasoned the sauce with a bit of salt. Taste first as the prosciutto will have given off a bit of its salty flavor.

The last vegetables I added were some separated brussels sprout leaves and some halved snow peas, as they are both quite delicate. You could add a teaspoon of mascarpone cheese at this point, or a splash of cream would work, or even a pat of butter, just to make the sauce a bit decadent, but that is not typical in a Primavera dish.
This is the point when you can decide if your sauce should be light and simple or heavier and rich.
The dish would be tasty either way, but I kept it light.

I tossed in the pasta with whatever little bit of starchy cooking liquids came with them, and allowed the flavors to combine for another minute or so in the pan.

This was a surprisingly successful meal considering it was made entirely of scraps of other meals.
Necessity is the mother of invention yet again.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sherry Baby

This is only subtly different from the sauce that I like to make with a seared duck breast, but it was just as addictive and really made what could be a bland pork dinner pop.

Note: I would suggest using this sauce over pork chops, rather than a pork tenderloin. It's just that I tend to buy tenderloins because I prefer the texture.

Start by seasoning your pork with salt and a little chopped fresh thyme.
Sear it in a pan with a touch of olive oil, and finish it in a 425º oven* until just pink in the middle, 7-12 minutes, depending on size.
Set aside to rest.

*If doing pork chops, the pan alone should suffice.
Arty Shallots
 Add a bit more olive oil to the pan and start to cook 1 small shallot, medium slice, on medium heat.

Once the shallot has started to soften and almost color, add one clove of garlic, minced, and give that another minute to cook and become aromatic.
Next add 1 tsp of dried thyme (or rosemary if you prefer), 1/2 cup chicken stock, and 1/3 cup dry sherry to the pan.
Stir to pick up any brown bits from the pork and season with a pinch of salt.

Crank the heat to medium high and add 1 1/2 TBSP of cherry preserves.
(You can see the whole chunks of cherry in my pan.)
Stir regularly as the sauce reduces.

Getting there, but not quite ready...

NOW the sauce is ready!
Check one last time for seasoning (it should be sweet from the cherries and a bit aromatic from the sherry) and spoon over your pork.

I served the pork with prosciutto peas for a delicate sweet-yet-saltiness, and a dollop of cauliflower mash to cut the richness.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roasted Acorn Squash

Well, those two days of 60º were nice... back to the reality of February with the new-fallen snow on the ground. Here's another cold weather staple:

Super simple and an iconic Fall or Winter food, roasted squash can be a side dish, a bed for a tasty appetizer, turned into soup, or even a pasta sauce. 
Experiment with different kinds of squash and enjoy the subtle differences.
I happen to really enjoy the nuttier flavor of an acorn squash.
(Pardon the horrid photography below)

Start by slicing your squash in half and scooping out the seeds (save to toast if you like),  rub the inside with olive oil, and season with salt.
Invert (cut-side down) the squash onto a baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes at 425º until tender. Some people may cook squash cut-side up, but by turning it upside down the moisture that gets trapped helps to steam the flesh and cook it faster.

At the end you can flip the squash cut-side up and add some butter and brown sugar (maybe 1/2 to 1 tsp per half) and cook an additional 15 minutes if you just want a sweet side dish.
I love it that way, but the hubs finds it too sweet.

However you choose to use it, squash of any variety is a good source of vitamins and fiber, not to mention pretty tasty in its own right.
I would suggest trying this recipe I recreated of roasted squash polenta with sage-pistachio mascarpone, which was fabulous, and which also serves as a delicious base for leftover roast chicken and gravy.
Try it out and get your B Vitamin on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Bacon Valentine

Men really get the short end of the stick when it comes to Valentine's Day. They're expected to do the heavier share of the gift-giving as decreed by Hallmark and the Florist contingent. And since I do wake up every year to some form of chocolate sitting on my computer table when I wake up, I try to show my appreciation for my hubby with what I'm good at: cooking.

I chose his 2 favorite foods: Steak and Bacon.
(Arguably his 2 favorite foods could be bacon and bacon, but that's just redundant.)
I also decided to incorporate bacon into every part of the meal except the beverage, just to really show I care.
And no, I'm not trying to kill the hubs or myself. My genetically high cholesterol has dropped 170 points in the past year thanks to medication, but I am slightly anemic, so I am now not only allowed to eat bacon on occasion, I need to eat more steak!

Now bacon-wrapped filet mignon is a classic, but it's an expensive classic, so I opted to go another way.
Bacon compound butter, on a cheaper cut of steak.
(Saving money shows I care about our future...)
Above you see room temperature butter (about 2 TBSP) and 2 slices of cooked bacon, finely chopped.

After mixing it together, spoon it onto some plastic wrap and mould it however you like.
I went with an attempt at a heart...

As potatoes are probably #3 on the hubs's favorite food list, I had to have them for a side dish. These I roasted in the oven in a combination of rendered duck fat, a little bacon fat, some salt, onion, and fresh thyme. Roughly 40 minutes at 400-425º, turning once halfway through, and they come out crispy and brown and fabulous. 
Don't forget to season them again while they are hot so the salt sticks.

Mmmm... more bacon
Not to be left out, I chopped up and crisped one more slice of bacon and cooked the frozen peas in the rendered fat.
There was one healthy-ish aspect to this meal, I swear.

Guess which is my piece
In a very hot skillet, I seared some seasoned (room temperature!) steaks that I had pat dry and brushed lightly with olive oil, cooking until medium-rare. About 2-3 minutes per side for a 3/4" thick steak.
Place the bacon compound butter atop the hot steak and watch it melt.
Just like the hubs's heart when he saw what was for dinner.

Money shot of the fabulous potatoes
I added the crisped bacon pieces to the potatoes after I had plated them so they would not get soggy.
I cannot stand soggy bacon.
It's such a let-down.

Ta da!
My Valentine's Day dinner to show how much I care was not a let-down.
It was quite tasty.
Unfortunately dessert was not as big a hit as I'd hoped, as I had ordered a custom-made chocolate bar for the hubs, which was dark chocolate with bacon and peanut butter chips in it.
For shame Chocomize.
Your options are intriguing, but your chocolate quality kind of sucks.
Luckily there was plenty of Godiva to go around, and dessert was salvaged.
Hubs to the rescue again.
I do love him so.

Monday, February 14, 2011

His 'n' Hers

Michael Cain has been quoted as saying "The secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms."

Now, I don't think that's the secret to my happy marriage, as the hubs and I did not have separate bathrooms for the first 4 years we were together. But then, that was back in the ooey-gooey first flush of love stage, and then newlywed-hood, etc..
While it may not be the secret, having separate bathrooms really does cut down on possible fractious encounters over who left the toilet seat how, why the toothpaste glop in the sink wasn't rinsed off when you rinsed your mouth, where the wet towels may be, or why yesterday's underwear is still on the floor.
Not that these are issues we have in our home...

But now, for the clarity of all who may visit our home, there can be no denying from the outside (or the inside) which is the Girls bathroom and which is the Boys bathroom:
Faux & origami flowers are only temporary.

How cute are these? Seriously?
If you think they're adorable too (they're real vases, so you can put them on any wall in any combination) they are available separately at CB2 or online.

Hope you all have a Happy Valentine's Day. I just made some bacon compound-butter to go atop tonight's steak, which will be accompanied by bacon & duck fat-roasted potatoes, and peas with... bacon.

Guess what the hubs's favorite food is?

P.s. - Tomorrow is my birthday. Feel free to let the love continue for another 24 hrs...

Friday, February 11, 2011


Not too shabby for a first attempt.

For those who may not know, Cioppino (chee-oh-pee-noh) is an Italian fish soup or stew. The ingredients can vary depending on what fish is freshest and what the individual making it prefers.
Mine was lacking in the common mix of clams, mussels, and shrimp, as those are all things the hubs protests eating.
He will eat calamari tho, so I combined that with some chunky cod filets and called it good to go.

Unappetizing cauldron of tomato
For this dish I used:
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes 
1 medium onion (or two large shallots), sliced
half a head of fennel, sliced
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 TBSP tomato paste 
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil (5-6 large leaves)
1 cup fish stock (or clam juice)
3/4 cup white wine
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

Start by sautéing the onions and fennel in 2 TBSP olive oil on medium heat in a large stock pot. Cook until softened and turning translucent, around 10 minutes. When almost done add the garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and tomato paste and allow to cook out another minute or two.

Next add the bay leaf, fish stock, white wine, tomatoes, and basil and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.

Add your chosen combination of shellfish and fish and cook, covered, for another 5-6 minutes, or until the fish is opaque. Make sure all shellfish used open completely.
Discard any that do not, along with the bay leaf.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with fennel fronds, and serve immediately.

An option if you are making this dish for a party would be to go through all the steps leading up to adding the seafood and stopping there. You could make the soup liquids a couple days in advance. Then, right when it's time to eat, bring the soup back up to a simmer, add the seafood, and you'll be sitting down in 10 minutes, largely stress-free.

This dish is light enough for the summer months, but satisfying enough for the winter, especially if served with some crusty garlic bread!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Kale & Pancetta Flatbread

This is tasty.

And really simple. Watch.

Sauté chopped pancetta in olive oil (about 2 TBSP) until crispy. Lower the heat and add 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
Add chopped kale leaves (about 2 cups) and wilt down.
(Some chopped porcini mushrooms would also be delicious in this. Add at the same time as the garlic if you choose to include them.)
Use a minimal amount of salt to season as the pancetta is salty by itself.

Spread over pizza dough or flat bread that you have rolled out to your desired thickness.
I par-bake my crust for about 5 minutes before adding toppings.
Do not waste any of the flavorful oil in the pan. If you have enough, brush the edges of the crust with the oil so they brown nicely and have extra flavor.

Top with some torn fresh mozzarella and basil.
Bake as directed for your dough.
For me that's 12 minutes at 450º

Optional finish to this would be to drizzle some good olive oil over the top, or even an infused oil.
I have a lovely sage & mushroom infused olive oil which added a lovely depth of flavor.


Simple but tasty, and yet another way to use up ingredients in your fridge.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Kitchen Sink Chili Soup

My friend was trying to help me come up with a name for this soup, and as she thought it had some good Italian leanings we were trying to look up how to say "kitchen sink" in Italian.
We failed.
That, or "Acquiao Chili Soup" sounded even more unclear to us.

The "kitchen sink" aspect of this soup comes from the fact that when I first made it, I was simply using up items in my fridge, which often leads to tasty cooking discoveries. This time I had some almost-wilting kale, the usual celery and carrots, and some leftover rosemary pork tenderloin from dinner that wasn't enough for a meal by itself. So, I diced it up and put it in the bottom of my bowl when I ladled the soup on top... and it was DELICIOUS!

Other guests to this party (read: soup) include shallot, garlic, chicken stock, white wine, white beans (always in the pantry for adding body, protein, and fiber), cumin, oregano, & chili powder.

You may recognize the seasonings from my favorite Chicken & White Bean Chili. Well, that's why this soup was named Kitchen Sink Chili Soup. Also, if you have swiss chard or some other hearty winter green, by all means use that. I just buy (and thereby cook with) kale the most because it is so heavily packed with vitamins and other good things, and it really does stand up to sitting in a pot full of hot soup, unlike spinach and arugula.

Step one: soffritto. Dice 1 medium shallot, 2 medium carrots, and one long stick of celery and sauté in olive oil on medium heat until tender with a pinch of salt.

More fun with macro
I separate the stems of the kale and dice them to a similar size as the soffritto and throw them in the pot to soften at the same time.

While these four ingredients are softening, chop up the greens of the kale and set aside. Take 2-3 cloves of garlic and finely chop them as well, and measure out 1 tsp of cumin, 3/4 tsp oregano, and 3/4 tsp of chili powder.
When the veggies have softened (less than 10 minutes if you've done a fine dice) add the garlic and spices and allow them to cook out another minute.

Note: It is possible at the end that you might want to add a bit more seasoning. I find that the beans can absorb a lot of salt and other seasonings, and sometimes I need to adjust before serving.

See that? That's how much white wine I used.
Less than or up to 1/4 cup. Just enough for a little background depth of flavor, and something for the garlic to simmer in for another minute or two.

Next add your chopped kale leaves and about a cup of chicken stock.
Stir, add the lid, and allow the kale to wilt down a bit.
While that's happening...

Notice how the circumference of the can is slightly wider than the circumference of my immersion blender? I love this trick.
I remove the white beans from the can and rinse them in cool water in a mesh strainer. Then I put half the beans back in and add just enough chicken broth to cover them, and then I use the immersion blender inside the can to purée the beans. Two rounds of that and a little extra stock to rinse out the can and I have saved myself a lot of cleanup.
You, however, do not need to purée your beans in your soup.
I'm just weird about white beans and like them to be invisible.

Add your beans to the pot and fill with however much stock makes you happy for your soup. If I'm in the mood for broth-y soup I probably use around 3 cups. If I want it thicker, less than 3 cups, OR I add another half can of puréed white beans to the mix.
Salt your soup again, as the beans will absorb.
Bring up to a simmer and check for any other seasoning adjustments.

Now comes the time for the leftover rosemary pork tenderloin. Dice it into bite-sized pieces and portion it out into the bottom of your serving bowls and ladle the hot soup on top.

I garnish with a little grated pecorino cheese and call it tasty.

Yes, this soup is still good without the leftover pork, but I HIGHLY recommend not skipping that step. It adds a wonderful depth of flavor. And do not throw it into the actual pot of soup, because then it will cook through all the way and lose all of that velvety tenderness that you got buy cooking it to a perfect light pink the night before. Just put a diced portion in the bottom of each bowl of soup and allow it to warm through that way, and they will be little gems of surprise deliciousness.
You won't regret it.
Unless you're kosher...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1 Year Old

Happy Blog-o-versary to me!

I feel about as brain-boggled as I did when I tried to write my first aimless post. This may have something to do with the emotional strain of having one's father in the hospital for 2 weeks after having a lung transplant (thank you, Agent Orange*) after a decade of waiting, the lack of sleep that goes along with that, and finally, fighting the flu, which makes everyone brain-dead.
* (read: F^ck You, Agent Orange)

But my dad got to go home last night! And my flu has just shifted out of the body-ache phase, so everything is lookin' pretty good. I may even celebrate with a glass of wine tonight, flu be damned.

All this means is instead of a spankin' new post, I'm going to link back to some of my favorites from the past year. These are not necessarily my wittiest or most well-written posts. Rather they are dishes I really enjoyed making, but especially enjoy eating.
Maybe some of them you missed along the way...

Orzo Perfection 
Poor photography

I forgot that I used to write instructions to the right of the photos. Maybe that was because my photos were so poor. Bleh.

The orzo, however: not poor.

Pan-Seared Duck with brandied plum-cherry sauce

I was just so proud of myself for getting this right so I could have a favorite dish at home whenever I wanted.

French Onion Soup

Because Julia Child knew what she was doing (at least once she'd published it.)

Tangy Asian Chicken Thighs over quinoa with glazed carrots.

Even when I don't think I'm in the mood for this meal, as soon as I smell it marinating I start to salivate.

I now interrupt my scheduled recipe recap for some Food Porn, because it's that good.
Continuing on...

Stuffed French Toast made for the hubs on our anniversary last summer.

He's so lucky to have me.

Asparagus Soup

Tho you may know it better as my "Detox Soup".

Roasted Squash Polenta w/ Sage-Pistachio Mascarpone & Porcini

Also delicious with leftover roast chicken & gravy on top.

Chicken Chili

Because it is super simple, figure friendly, and tasty!

Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs

Made for the hubs's coworkers for a dinner party. (Ms. Ramos still threatens to move in here.)

The Best Roast Chicken

Need I say more?
Except that it made My First Thanksgiving turkey an unequivocal hit, and yes that's a picture of the turkey, not the chicken.
The turkey was prettier.

Well, looking back at my earliest posts certainly made me notice how my formatting has changed. And the photography. (Hopefully that will continue to improve, but as I don't have room in my NYC apartment kitchen to build one of those fancy "light boxes" it's all just going to have to suffice as is.)

Seriously tho, I'd like to thank everyone who stops by here and bothers to leave comments, because I really do appreciate it. This whole blog started because friends kept asking me "How'd you make that?" when I would only update my Facebook status with what I was cooking.  So, yes it was born out of a personal passion for food and cooking, but it was also to help others and make other people happy.
And I hope I've done at least a little of that in the past year.