When I find a new band I like, I listen to their CD ten times a day until I get completely sick of it and can’t listen to it any more. I do the same thing when it comes to new food. For example, I had the same breakfast for about a month straight. I now need a long break before I can eat vanilla yogurt again.
My current food obsession is all Melissa’s fault. Melissa made three different quiches for her brunch-fest and I was hooked. I took a couple of stabs at quiche using a recipe I pulled off a random website but I wasn’t thrilled with the results. I decided to be creative and make a quiche with whatever came in my next Boston Organics box, using Michelle’s (and by extension, Melissa’s) simple quiche formula. As luck would have it, I had beautiful zucchini and white button mushrooms delivered last Thursday. Perfect.
Riding my wave of inspiration and motivation (rare that those two should coincide) I added some fresh oregano and basil that have been growing on my kitchen window sill. Both the oregano and basil were finally ready for their debut.
The quiche came out wonderfully creamy and very light (and almost all organic, save for the pie crust. Very exciting). The fresh herbs added depth of flavor to the quiche without competing for attention with the mushrooms and zucchini. I was so proud of myself. I am inching ever closer to becoming an adult (don’t yet know if that’s good or bad): I can make quiche! I really hope that I don't force quiche to go on vacation like I did to the vanilla yogurt. Will have to keep myself in check.
Zucchini and Mushroom Quiche, with the help of Michelle and Melissa.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium zucchini, sliced into thin half moons
half a carton of mushrooms, caps only (any kind would work, I used about 8 mushroom caps)
1 shallot, sliced into thin rings
1 cup milk (I used 1% milk)
1 pre-made pie crust (I am a cheater, I know. I have officially given up on trying to make my own pie crust)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp each fresh oregano and basil, finely chopped
1) Preheat oven to 375oF.
2) Sauté the shallot in olive oil over medium heat until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes
3) Add zucchini and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until most of the moisture is rendered out of the vegetables. Allow to cool.
4) While vegetables are cooking, cover the bottom of the pie crust with parmesan. Lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and herbs to beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
5) Place the vegetables in an even layer on the bottom of the pie crust, pour the milk and egg mixture on top.
6) Sprinkle the top with a little more cheese (it will turn a pretty brown in the oven).
7) Place in oven (on a cookie sheet to catch potential spills) for 1 hour, or until the center of the quiche is set.
8) Allow to cool to room temperature. Serve with salad, preferably in the hour between World Cup soccer matches.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
When I find a new band I like, I listen to their CD ten times a day until I get completely sick of it and can’t listen to it any more. I do the same thing when it comes to new food. For example, I had the same breakfast for about a month straight. I now need a long break before I can eat vanilla yogurt again.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
My week is finally over! To those that had to put up with me these last few days (the three of you know who you are), I extend my sincerest apologies and gratitude for your patience. My talk is done, working 15 hour days is done (for now). I have not been home in a while. I have not been in my kitchen for a very long while. Needless to say, I have no food in the house. This Saturday (my work-free Saturday!), was time for comfort food.
I cannot believe I am about to do this. I cannot believe that I am about to reveal my family’s super secret recipe for one of my favorite comfort foods. Can’t stop myself! It’s too much fun to make, and feels like home to eat.
Below is my grandmother's original recipe for chicken rice pilaf (pronounced plov in Russian). Plov is actually a Georgian dish (not the Georgia with Savannah in it. The other Georgia) and is typically made with lamb. [FYI – all good Russian food is actually Georgian in origin. Really. Ask any Russian person]. Russian food is not known for liberal use of spices. Actually, Russians hardly use any spices at all in their cooking, unless you count dill. Salt, pepper, and garlic are the only spices in my grandmothers’ repertoire. Her plov is flavored only with garlic. Potently flavored, mind you.
Plov is one of the first things that I learned how to cook and is one of the first things I truly enjoyed cooking. This is when people would normally insert "first learned to cook when I was 10 years old." Sadly, no. I was 25...
It is basic, simple, and comforting, especially for someone in my current condition - burned out and mostly brain dead from too much thinking. I usually have all the necessary ingredients on hand, making it the perfect food to turn to when thinking hurts too much.
Super Secret Family Recipe
Chicken Rice Pilaf (or Plov)
~3tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 ½ cups long grain white rice (I use Basmati)
6-8 very large garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
~2 cups chicken stock
1) In a medium sized stock pot (I use a 3qt pot), sauté grated carrot and onion in olive oil until the onion is softened.
2) Add chicken and season with a ton of freshly ground black pepper. Don’t be shy – there is not a whole lot else to add flavor. Cook while stirring until chicken turns white on the outside but is not necessarily cooked through (see picture), while listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s at top volume.
3) Thoroughly wash and drain the rice. Add rice to the top of the carrot/onion/chicken mixture in an even layer.
4) Add chicken stock to cover the rice by about a centimeter. Season with salt.
5) Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low (as low as it will go), cover, and cook for about 30 min, or until the chicken stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked through.
6) Spread the garlic on top of the rice, cover, and allow garlic to steam approx 5 min.
7) Take of the heat, stir in the garlic, adjust the salt.
8) Eat on the couch while watching the stupidest (and awesomest) movie you have laying around while brain recovers from the tortures of the week. My stupid movie may have had something to do with White Castle… Don’t judge me too harshly.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
This year I officially entered the late-20-something club. For the most part, it's not at all a bad place to be. I'm more comfortable then I ever have been in my own skin and am increasingly aware of what makes me content (mostly cooking - for other people). Though my own maturation process (sounds so much better than aging, right?) this year has been marked by self-discovery, for friends that process has been celebrated in more traditional ways; weddings and babies. Three of my closest girlfriends in CA are going to (or have) tied the knot this year (congratulations to Lucy, Adrienne and Kristie!) and two of my close co-workers have had babies already this year (welcome to little Adrian and Elena). So, what is this single late-20 something to do in the face of this baby boom? Shower the exhausted new parents with easy-to-cook food, of course!
A little over a year ago, Cooking Light ran an article about main course one-pot meals that could be made in double batches, frozen and then easily cooked right out of the freezer... that sounded like a perfect way to help out... A little digging through Josh and Jennifer's Cooking Light recipe files turned up the following recipe. I've had it before and was surprised how something so simple could be so hearty and satisfying. I guess it's not great summer food, but I have gotten rave reviews from the new parents who were just glad to not have to think about what to cook for dinner while trying to balance work and the new baby.
Four Cheese Stuffed Shells with Spicy Marinara (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 lb. jumbo shell pasta (40 shells)
1 (12 oz.) carton low-fat cottage cheese
1 (15 oz.) carton ricotta cheese
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded asiago cheese
3/4 c. (3 oz.) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 T. chopped fresh chives
2 T. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. salt
1 10 oz. box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
6 c. Smoky Marinara (recipe to follow)
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded part-skim mozzerella
Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and set aside.
If cooking that night, preheat the oven to 375F. Coat 2 (13x9 inch) baking dishes with cooking spray and set aside.
Blend the cottage and ricotta cheeses together in a medium mixing bowl (Cooking Light says to use a food processor, I used a handheld electric mixer, and it got the job done). Add the next six ingredients (Asiago through spinach) and fold into cheese mixture until well blended. Spoon or pipe approximately 1T cheese mix into each shell (this was awesome - the first time I used the "snip the corner off of a plastic bag" method of piping - definately messy fun).
Also, I had more than enough cheese mixture, so don't be frugal with the stuffing. Arrange half the stuffed shells in one of the baking dishes (seam-side down) and top with 3 c. of Smoky Marinara and sprinkle with 1/2 c. shredded mozzerella. Repeat with other half of shells in second pan.
To cook right away, cover with foil and cook at 375F for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated through.
**this is the best part of the recipe** You can freeze the casserole unbaked for future use (by new parents) and then all they have to do is stick it right in the oven - no pre-cooking or defrosting necessary!!
To freeze unbaked casserole: Prepare all the way - without the baking part - and wrap the container first with plastic wrap (removing as much air as possible) and then with foil. This will store in the freezer for up to two months.
To bake the frozen casserole: Preheat oven to 375F. Remove and reserve foil. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Cover with reserved foil and bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until heated through thoroughly (no need to defrost before putting in the oven).
1 T. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. chopped basil
2 T. chopped fresh parsley
2 T. chopped fresh oregano (or 2 t. dried, crushed oregano)
2 t. balsamic vinegar
1/4 t. black pepper
1/8 t. salt
1 (28 oz) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, basil, parsley and oregano; saute one minute, stirring frequently. Stir in vinegar and remaining ingredients. Reduce heat and simmer at least 10 additional minutes (can leave simmering while putting together rest of shells, but will reduce a bit).
It's easy, tasty, all in one dish and you can even take a nap while it's heating up!
Monday, June 19, 2006
I live in an attic - well, at least for two more weeks... It's a great space - no one above me, views of trees out my windows (rather than the street) and a fabulous paint job. However, the comfort factor here is directly related to the weather. Right now, it's disgusting. Heat rises through the other three levels of the house and gets trapped in here. Because of the oddly shaped space there is very little cross-ventilation. Moreover, though there are windows in each room, because of curious squirrels and the disconcerting absence of screens, I can't leave my windows open to air the place out. Well, technically I can, but then I end up with squirrels in my bathroom (not the best way to wake up this past Saturday morning).
So, when I return home from a long and disappointing day in lab the last thing I want to do is fire up an oven or stove, anything really, except a grill - but I'll have to wait for the new place for that (my attic doesn't have a porch). Summer hit Boston this past weekend. It's been in the high 80s and low 90s the past few days with increasing humidity - I'm getting psyched for the thunderstorms tomorrow (love the lightning). Even though it is cooling off a bit outside at this point, the high was 91 today and my attic is holding the heat better than a greenhouse (it's still 89.5 in here now, at 9:30pm). Tonight I wanted something cool, crisp and flavorful. Also, I needed to find a way to use the multitudes of vegetables in my refrigerator and the turkey I had defrosted yesterday. A cold noodle salad sounded like the way to go...
Cold Soba Salad (dressing adapted from Orangette)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 c. Thai fish sauce
2/3 c. water
1/2 c. fresh orange juice (calls for lime juice, but it was sour and I had no limes)
1/2 c. rice vinegar
1/4 c. brown sugar (can add more to taste)
hot chile paste (called for chiles themselves, but only had paste)
2 servings soba noodles (see picture, each serving is wrapped with a small paper band)
1 bunch of spinach, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 carrots, sliced thinly
4-5 scallions, sliced thinly
(any other veggies you'd want to add or have lying around)
2 T. toasted/dark sesame oil
1/4 lb. shitake mushroom caps, sliced thinly
~ 1 c. precooked turkey (I use the Perdue Short Cuts oven roasted turkey breast - it always comes in super handy, its already cooked and can be heated up and seasoned for any type of dish)
Set a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. While waiting for the water, cut up all of the vegetables:
Assemble all the dressing ingredients in a food processor (I have the mini-Cuisinart) and blend well, being careful to finely chop the garlic. Place dressing in refrigerator until needed.
Heat sesame oil in a medium skillet. Add turkey and mushrooms, until heated and softened, respectively (At this point, I add the carrots to the skillet when I remove it from the stove to soften them just a bit with the residual heat). When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles and cook for 4-5 minutes until softened. Remove from heat and rinse with cold water. Shake well to remove as much liquid as possible. Combine veggies, turkey and mushrooms (and carrots), and dressing to coat the noodles. Can be eaten immediately or chilled for a while and then served. (Ziploc container service optional, but hey, eating out of plastic is one of the few perks of cooking for one :)
You will have extra dressing, so cut the recipe or it can be used as a marinade for seafood (I'm planning on trying it with salmon later in the week).
Now I have several servings for cool lunches during the rest of the hot and stormy days ahead! Have a great week!
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Friends who know me well send me food. I recently received a box full of gifts from Texas. My well thought out package contained a giant bottle of Rudy’s BBQ sauce, fire roasted salsa from La Fogata in San Antonio, and two packs of Whittington’s Jerky – turkey and beef - both spicy, of course. The handy Whittington’s website tells me that they also make jerky in Teriyaki and Garlic flavors. I will have to bring a whole lot back when I go to TX in August. Yes, August. I plan on packing myself in cold beer bottles to keep cool during the time I am there. Should work, right?
Being the city dweller that I am, I have very limited opportunity to grill and cook outdoors, in general. As soon as I manage to con some people into hosting a cookout, I will describe the BBQ sauce in overwhelming detail. But for now, I can only tell you about the jerky.
Jerky is a newly acquired taste for me. Until a couple of years ago, I thought of jerky as something sold in scary and unsanitary gas station shops. How wrong was I?? So very wrong... A lot of the jerky sold in supermarkets is loaded with salt and preservatives. Some jerky packs even contain those little dehydrating silica packages that one sometimes finds in shoe boxes. I don’t need shoe preservatives in my food. These types of jerky taste like unidentifiable chemicals but they don’t have to, as I happily found out. There is a whole world of natural, minimally processed jerky made from tuna, salmon, turkey, beef… That’s as far as I have gotten in my explorations. I am sure there are other interesting things to dry for jerky.
Whittington’s jerky (included in my most lovely package from Texas) as revealed by some internet sleuthing, is produced in Johnson City, TX using a 40 year old recipe. The dried, mesquite-smoked meat is cut by hand into small squares – not the flat strips I am accustomed to seeing. I don’t know if this is a Texas jerky thing or a Whittington’s jerky thing. Whichever thing it is, it’s wonderful. The bits of turkey or beef stay whole and don’t splinter off like super dried jerky tends to. It is dry yet moist all at the same time. The hot and spicy jerky I had the pleasure of trying is flavored through and through with red pepper and smoke.
The handy Whittington’s website tells me that they also make jerky in Teriyaki and Garlic flavors. I will have to bring a whole lot back when I go to TX in August. Yes, August. I plan on packing myself in cold beer bottles to keep cool during the time I am there. Should work, right?
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Don't you love that picture? I'll get to the food in a second, but I was just completely thrilled (and extremely lucky) to have gotten this picture of this past Sunday's brunch. The fact that the food is in focus enough for us to talk about is great, plus that I can also get a sensation of how alive our bruncheon was (because of the people - particularly Josh - in motion) is pretty nifty - especially as it was the only picture that turned out that I took that day.
As you, the faithful reader (hi dad!), have figured out, Sunday night dinners rotate houses and chefs within our small group. This past week was my turn as it had been five weeks or so since my baked potato bar and fondue extravaganza. I had planned out a menu far in advance that featured a roast chicken and Fresh Catering's roasted garlic and leek savory bread pudding. We were technically a few days away from the first day of summer, yet, here in Boston, we've been stuck in spring rain mode for weeks... So, this type of hearty, but unseasonal dinner seemed, at first, to be appropriate.
Yet, fate and fair weather took hold and plans were changed with a great deal of delight on my part. Though graduate school and lab still run my life at this point (pesky thing, completing that thesis), others are ready to move on (lucky bastards!). Specifically, Josh and Jennifer (of Memorial Day bbq-ing fame), Jonathan (of bulgoki fame) and Joe (no food-blog fame; just a great friend) are all moving on to bigger and better things that are taking them away from us. To celebrate our time together and give the four J's a festive send-off (they will all be leaving sometime between June 28th and July 31st), I decided to throw a bad-ass Sunday Brunch. And, rather than keep dinner to a small manageable group, I invited 21 of our closest friends to fete and feast in their honor.
A quick aside: brunch is my favorite meal - no question. Three of my favorite foods are cheese, eggs and potatoes - all commonly found on the brunch plate... Plus, for a hostess, there were so many options of dishes to choose from - I, being one who hates to make decisions, chose them all. The menu was comprised of:
Beverages: OJ, berry bellinis (my own impromptu creation) and bloody marys
Savory Tasties: Quiche 3-ways (ha - I've always wanted to say that, but what I mean is bacon, spinach and pepper-jack quiche, broccoli, shitake mushroom and chedder quiche and Clotilde's divine salmon-leek quiche), Florentine Frittata (adapted from Cooking Light) and roasted potatoes with sweet onions
Sweet Treats: Orangette's Orange-Nutmeg muffins and Scottish scones(I dressed them up with cinnamon and raisins) as well as a variety of fresh fruit (mangos, cherries, kiwis, strawberries, and pineapple) with vanilla yogurt
From what I gathered it was a great success (so much so that the bacon quiche was gone by the time I made up my plate). My camera battery was dying throughout the morning, so the header pictures is all I have - but you can see the complete spread before it was completely laid to waste. We all toasted Josh, Jennifer and Jonathan (Joe couldn't come to his own party, he got leftovers the next day) and watched the Mexico-Iran World Cup match and made complete gluttons of ourselves... What a way to celebrate... And, best of all, what a way to try a plethora of other blogger's recipes for tasty brunch food that I've been craving!
I've linked to the recipes from other bloggers in the menu listing above, but I'll include here the recipe for the frittata and my quiche adaptations:
Florentine Frittata (loosely adapted from Cooking Light)
**This recipe is designed to feed 4-6, I doubled it and cooked it in a 9x13 inch baking pan
2 T. water
1/2 t. dried basil (I used approximately 1 T. finely chopped fresh basil)
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/4 t. salt (I would definitely use more salt next time... that's all it was lacking)
1/4 t. dried oregano (again, I used ~1 T. finely chopped fresh oregano)
1 16oz carton egg substitute (ick - I used 8 real eggs - "brown eggs are local eggs")
1 10oz package frozen spinach (I used 1 large bunch of spinach, chopped and steamed)
2 t. butter
2 c. thinly sliced Vidalia onions (or other sweet onions)
2 c. frozen shredded hash browns (couldn't find these anywhere! used fresh grated potatoes that had been boiled until just tender to a knife)
1 7oz bottle roasted red peppers, drained and sliced (oops, forgot the slicing part)
3 oz. feta cheese (better if it is the kind you can crumble with your fingers - not the already crumbled kind)
1. Combine the first 7 ingredients (water through spinach) in a bowl, set aside.
2. Melt butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add onion; saute 5 minutes. Add hash browns (or grated potatoes); cook 9 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Pour egg mixture over onion-potato mixture. Arrange roasted bell pepper slices (or giant pieces, if you're me) on top of frittata. Cook 7 minutes or until set (about 15-20 minutes if doubling and doing in the oven at 375F).
3. Preheat broiler.
4. Sprinkle frittata with cheese. Broil frittata for 5 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned (feta will not melt). Cut into wedges and serve!
Using Michelle's Quiche 1-2-3 base: premade crust (yay Pillsbury roll-out crusts!), 3 eggs and 1 cup milk (I used whole milk for a creamer base) - I constructed 2 very tasty variations:
Broccoli and Shitake Mushroom-
2 small heads of broccoli or 1 large head - chopped fine and steamed lightly
1/2 lb. shitake mushrooms, caps only, chopped into bite size pieces
8 oz. sharp chedder cheese, grated
Layer the 1/3 cheese on crust first, then 1/2 broccoli, 1/2 mushrooms (uncooked), repeat cheese, broccoli and mushrooms. Top with last 1/3 of cheese. Pour egg mixture over top and bake for 35-40 minutes at 375F.
Turkey Bacon, Spinach and Pepperjack-
1 package turkey bacon, chopped into strips, fried and drained
1 large bunch of spinach, washed, julienned, steamed and drained
8 oz pepperjack cheese, grated
Follow same as above layering cheese, bacon, spinach, cheese, bacon, spinach, cheese and then add egg+milk and bake.
These quiches were served at room temperature on the day of the brunch, but are also good both cold and warmed up (believe me, I've been eating leftovers all week).
So, now my brunch cravings have been quieted for a little while and I am happy to know that we sent off our friends into the new chapters in their lives with a great party. We can save the roasted chicken for the first weekend of fall (along with leaf peeping - why do they call it this?).
Once I am done eating all the leftovers this week, I'll be able to cook again and post something new!
Monday, June 12, 2006
And here it is, the much anticipated (by me) conclusion to the last Sunday Night Dinner that I was priveledged to host: lemon tart. It took me a while to decide what I would like to make for dessert. Three years ago the answer would have been simple - something involving vast quantities of chocolate. Archna should take a deep breath in now - I don't think I like chocolate any more!! I know. I'm awful. I never crave it, never want it. I really hope she will still speak to me after reading this...
I was flipping through my wonderful gift from Jonathan, The Silver Spoon cookbook, for fruit-based dessert ideas. As an aside, this book is giant, comprehensive, educational, refined by many generations of Italian cooks, and is just fun to read. Is there a special category of dork for people who read cookbooks for pleasure? There should be if there isn't. Back to the dessert: I came across a recipe for a lemon tart. The tartness of the lemon would be perfect to offset the richness of the risotto I was preparing for the main course. Little did I know that the tart had plenty of richness of its own. The tart should be renamed "butter tart" since that really is the main ingredient.
Despite the many stumbling blocks described in painful detail below, the tart turned out well. The crust tasted like a lemon shortbread cookie. It was crumbly and light - miraculous really, considering all that butter... Melissa and I both felt that the lemon flavor of the custard could have been more pronounced. Next time I make it, I will try doubling the amount of lemon juice. I would guess that one could adjust the recipe to the degree of tartness or sweetness desired.
Lemon Tart, from The Silver Spoon
Tart Shell Dough
1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
½ cup superfine sugar (regular sugar worked just fine)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
2 egg yolks
2 tsp lemon zest, grated
1) Sift the flour and sugar into a mound.
2) Make a well in the center and add the butter, egg yolks, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.
3) Mix thoroughly and knead briefly.
4) Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
5) Roll out the dough on a lightly floured counter and use to line a greased tart pan.*
* Rolling pins and I do not get along. I have never had luck with any recipe requiring a rolling pin. The dough either tears, falls apart… or falls on the floor. This recipe was, unfortunately, no exception. The dough, even after a thorough chilling, was too crumbly and dry to roll out. I took the easy (cheating) way out and pressed the dough into the bottom of the tart pan and up the walls. It worked, as it usually does. So if your relationship with your rolling pin is as tense as mine, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you can get by without it. If, on the other hand, you are perfectly comfortable (and maybe even in a happy relationship) with your rolling pin, please tell me the secret!
2/3 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup superfine sugar (again, regular sugar worked)
zest of 2 lemons, grated
juice of ½ lemon, strained
confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
1) Preheat oven to 350oF.
2) Beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl.
3) Stir in the lemon juice and zest, then stir in the butter.**
4) Pour the mixture into prepared tart pan lined with tart dough.
5) Bake 30 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
6) Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar.
** I became very nervous as I got to this step in the recipe. The butter didn’t incorporate into the mixture at all. It remained in big butter clumps, suspended in the egg/lemon mixture. That is how I placed it in the oven (with the tart pan on a baking sheet to catch all the leaking… butter, of course) and immediately began scrambling for alternative dessert ideas, convinced that this tart would be a failure. To my surprise and joy, it wasn’t a failure at all! The butter melted in the heat of the oven and spread throughout the egg/lemon mixture. The custard (or lemon curd, really) set as it cooled, just as it should have. So don’t be scared of it. It will look very funny but will turn out ok, even if you think all is lost.
This brings us to the end of my turn at last Sunday Night Dinner. The complete plate: Endive and arugula salad, broiled hake with parsley, capers, and lemon (my own creation), and cauliflower and leek risotto. I thought the fish self-explanatory and left it out - I will be happy to field all recipe requests.
Friday, June 09, 2006
I know, I know, I am ruining the order of things. I haven't yet finished the last Sunday Night Dinner recap, and here I am, moving on to something entirely unrelated. But this was exciting for me (likely no one else though). My last Boston Organics box included a bunch of kale.
See it? Top left corner, next to the Massachusetts-raised red leaf lettuce, in my somewhat rushed picture of the box. I had not tried kale before - either cooking or eating it, and have always been somewhat weary of it. I conquered that fear tonight, and made Caldo Verde (aka Portuguese Green soup) following a recipe kindly included with my vegetables. I checked, and the recipe looked authentic enough. Unfortunately, I had to leave out the linguica (Portuguese sausage) which is always used in the soup - taunted by pork products yet again. The recipe included in my box said the soup doesn't suffer terribly for the loss.
Caldo Verde is basically a smooth potato soup with kale added at the end of the cooking. Smooth soup means I get to use one of my very favorite kitchen toys - my immersion blender, a birthday gift from my aunt. I didn't mess with the recipe too much, other than leaving out the sausage and using chicken stock in place of water to add more flavor to the soup. The recipe starts by sautéing the onions and garlic, as many soups do. The next step calls for sautéing the raw potatoes. I was puzzled by this until I saw what was happening to the potatoes - cooking the raw potatoes in a dry pot made them begin to release their starch. I could see the starch collecting on the sides of the pot and making the potato slices stick together. Brilliant! Rendering starch out of the potatoes before adding the liquid probably leads to a smoother and creamier soup.
The kale is added at the end as it needs far less time to cook than the potatoes. Kale wasn't as scary as I thought; it was very easy to work with. I cut out the tough stem from each leaf, although I am not sure that was necessary. Was that necessary? I am a kale novice. That goes for all greens, actually. Have to work on that.
The soup turned out well. The potato base was smooth and thick enough to hold the kale afloat (I added only some of the chicken stock at the beginning of the cooking so as to control the thickness of the soup at the end). The kale was tender and tasted fresh as contrasted with the potato base. I think the texture of kale was what initially scared me - I always imagined that a lot of chewing isinvolved with kale, but that wasn't the case at all. It was a lot like spinach in taste, but just a little coarser. I will definitely make this soup again, maybe even with another green of some sort, like chard. If the rain keeps up in Boston, I will be making this soup again very soon. I didn't know that Boston had monsoon season...
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
salt, white and black pepper, to taste
1 bunch of kale, washed and trimmed
2 quarts chicken stock
1) In a large soup pot over medium high heat, heat the oil.
2) Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes.
3) Add the potatoes and sauté for 3 more minutes, stirring constantly (everyone now knows how I love to stir constantly).
4) Add cold chicken stock and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cover the pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart.
5) Puree the soup (with a nifty immersion blender, perhaps?) and season with salt and pepper. Return the soup to medium heat and warm.
6) Shred the kale leaves, add them to the soup and simmer for 5 minutes until the leaves are bright green and tender.
Do you see why this kale-containing soup was so exciting for me? I have a new vegetable? leaf? something, to add to my repertoire. I will finish the Sunday Night Dinner post soon. Really, I will.
So, where were we? The edge of your seat conclusion to what comes after cauliflower-leek risotto? No, silly - that' s Anna's gig (and both the risotto and what comes next were melt-in-your-mouth delicious)... What came next for me in this very out-of date tale of Memorial Day weekend were two Boston-only endeavors, Red Sox baseball and the Freedom Trail.
Baseball will be quick and easy to re-cap. I've stated before my love for the game and how the start of the season is my official welcome to summer (even if it took summer a little while to catch up this year). So, there's no need to be repetitive. On Sunday, Jack and I went to see the Sox take on (and beat) the Devil Rays and were able, through our secret Red Sox connection, to get great seats behind home plate. We went early to watch batting practice and enjoy a beautiful Boston day (70F at game time).
Because we got there an hour early - totally my fault - we were able to scarf a sausage before the game from a street vendor. Street vendors are, for me, a particularly East Coast thing. Growing up in CA, I never saw much food being sold on the street (unless the ice cream man handing us things out of his truck counted). I've read that street food in Boston is nothing to compare to New York, but I'm just getting used to the idea as it is here... As we walked around the outside of the ballpark we saw at least 10 sausage/steak tips carts, a few selling roasted nuts and even Luis Tiant is selling Cuban sandwiches. Anyways, the sausage was spicy, hot and tasty - definately food to get me in the mood for a game (but I liked the peanut picture more).
Monday was the official day of Boston tourism and Memorial Day barbeques. Jack and I caught the T and headed down to the Common to pick up the Freedom Trail. I'm a big fan of the Freedom Trail - with so many old neighborhoods not originally built for automobiles (let alone Trolleys or Ducks), the best way to see Boston is on foot. Especially on a breezy, warm late spring day. It still amazes me, coming from a place of very little history, how similar some parts of Boston have been for hundreds of years. We saw it all (the Boston side)... burial grounds (that's Mother Goose's grave at the top of the post), churches, meeting houses, marketplaces, Paul Revere's house as well as downtown, Fanueil Hall, the North End (our little Italy) and across the river to Charlestown. Jack got a cannoli at Mike's Pastry, supposedly the best cannoli in Boston (Josh will disagree and suggest you try Modern across the street). I wanted to take a picture, but by the time he got out the store, it was half gone - he did say it was the best cannoli he'd had...
At the Old North Church I sat and rested in George Washington's pew. That gives the history geek in me the willies... It was awesome. Here is an artsy picture (basically me trying to get a peak of the beautiful weather).
We ended our history tour at Copp's Hill Burial Ground. This is the last stop on the Boston side of the tour and is the second oldest burial ground in Boston (after Granary and King's Chapel). It was initially set aside for the burial of slaves and, later, free African-Americans. When we arrived there was a freemasons group performing a memorial service one of the founders of the freemason group. They were wearing uniforms and there was a bugler playing "Taps". It was a solumn moment and a reminder of Memorial Days meanings.
After our trek across Boston, we hopped onto the T for the last time and ventured out to Josh and Jennifer's house in Newton for the traditional Memorial Day barbeque. Good fun with good friends and lots of grilled food - I was too caught up in all of that to take any new pictures, so I present historical Josh bbq footage:
Overall it was a weekend filled with good weather, good friends and, of course, great food. It was important for me to try and capture it on the blog, because it was so nice to be reminded of what I love about this city. Around every corner were restaurants I've wanted to try, corner bookstores to dig through and new neighborhoods to explore. In trying to show someone else how amazing Boston can be, I came back around to that realization myself :) ~Lissa
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
The sequel to the last Sunday night dinner was a risotto. I have been wanting to make risotto for a while. Risottos are a little work intensive to prepare (a lot of stirring is involved) but it is the kind of work than allows one to relax and not think. It lets me clear my mind a little bit, as any repetitive motion would. Or is that just me?
Generally speaking, all risottos are made in the same way. The rice is first toasted in butter until it becomes translucent. Wine is commonly added, followed by a stock, chicken or otherwise. The key to risotto is adding the liquid in half cup increments, stirring the rice all the while and waiting until all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. The risotto accessories, such as leeks, cauliflower, or shrimp are added when the rice is almost finished cooking so as to avoid turning the added things into mush. The dish is finished with a little (or a lot) more butter and Parmesan.
Once the basic risotto-making technique is mastered, the combinations of flavors one can create are endless. One of my personal favorites is a risotto that Kanchan made a while ago - saffron, shrimp, and asparagus. I had my heart set on leeks this past Sunday, and so I set forth, with some help from a basic recipe on Epicurious.
This particular recipe called for Carnaroli rice instead of Arborio, the most common variety of Italian short grain rice used in risottos. Carnaroli has a higher starch content than Arborio which makes for a creamier risotto. I deviated from the recipe a little - it didn't call for any wine! I couldn't have that. And I do love those garnishes...
Adapted from Gourmet, 2003, as posted on Epicurious
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch-wide florets
1/2 cups dry white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Carnaroli rice
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
parsley, to garnish
1) Blanch leek and cauliflower in salted, boiling water for about a minute.
2) Shock in cold water to stop the cooking and drain well.
3) Bring the chicken stock and water to a simmer.
4) Melt 2 tbsp butter in large pan over medium high heat. When the foam subsides, add the leek and cauliflower, saute for about 2 minutes.
5) Add the rice, stir until the rice becomes translucent, about 2 more minutes.
6) Add the wine, stir the rice until all liquid is absorbed.
7) Add the chicken stock/water mix in ½ cup increments, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding more.
8) Stir Stir Stir! It will take about 25 minutes for the rice to become soft and creamy - you can see the starch start to seep out of the rice after about 10 minutes: it looks shimmery. Very neat.
9) Add 1 tbsp butter and grated cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (I would recommend salting as you go as opposed to waiting till the end).
10) Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately (ideally)... Or whenever the fish is done cooking, if you're me.
The rice was well cooked through - there was some resistance in the grains, but no crunch. The cheese added a lot of richness to the dish, making it even creamier and more velvety (is that a word?). I was happy to see that the cauliflower remained intact and did not turn to mush - I was surprised to see the recipe instruct me to add it at the beginning of the cooking process as opposed to the end. I was a little disappointed in the leek flavor - it was practically absent. Next time I make recipe, I will use 2 leeks instead of just one. The chicken flavor imparted by the stock was quite pronounced, which led me to all sorts of thoughts, such as infusing different stocks with different interesting things... Tarragon and rosemary spring to mind, and the ever-intriguing saffron. Will have to make time to play with risottos again sometime soon. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this Sunday Night Dinner. It will be thrilling, I promise.
I've been on a mini-hiatus, so I'm going to backtrack for this (and the next) entry to my Memorial Day weekend. I did have a chance then to post a quick picture of the game I was lucky enough to go to on that Sunday, but not much else...
I adore Boston. Seriously. I am originally from the central coast of California, Morro Bay to be exact. For you oenophiles out there, this is actually very close to the central coast wine country (Paso Robles and the Santa Ynez Valley - of Neverland Ranch and "Sideways" fame). Though I do miss sunsets over the ocean, fish tacos and mild temperatures (in that order), Boston grabbed ahold of my heart five years ago and has not let go. The view of the skyline makes me happy even when it's -2F outside. Unfortunately I'm not in the city all that much. I do live right inside the Boston city limits (and will be moving a little closer to town), but my lab is about 25 miles west of the city. When I am out and about in town, I'm usually at the same places - which I love, but it's always nice to get out and remind myself about the rest of the city.
Enter the three day weekend, a close friend visiting the area and one completely exasperated-with-lab-and-all-things-research Lissa. I decided to take the weekend off (gasp!). I know for you non-graduate students out there this seems silly, but, at this point, three weekend days in the lab is three days sooner to being able to finally leave - so, leisurely weekends in the city are not often on my to-do list.
Saturday morning found Jonathan and I at Haymarket, the biggest local farmer's market in the area (held every Friday and Saturday from 6am into the evening - though I wouldn't recommend it after 2pm).
It is a place where you can get any fresh vegetable or fruit you can imagine sold extremely cheap by large men with tatoos taking turns at leering (at the tourists) and yelling (at the people poking their fruit). In addition to produce, the market also has a great seafood section with fish most likely brought to the stall straight off the boat that morning. Smaller tables also sell cheeses, herbs, lentils and even goat (freshly killed of course). Haymarket is definately one of my favorite Boston activities. It is easy to get to (Haymarket stop on the T), a cheap outing and highly entertaining. I usually do a walk through first to see what the goods (and prices) look like; it can take a while to find out where the deals are. What is super fun about the entire endeavor is that here I get to see all of the heirloom and seasonal vegetables I read about on other blogs and in food magazines - and produce items I never knew existed... purple and orange cauliflower? who comes up with this stuff? no wonder they call them frankenfoods... (well the orange at least)
I've seen the orange cauliflower discussed on another blog (the details are escaping me at the moment) and I think I remember that the orange is due to enhanced beta-carotine. However, purple cauliflower was completely new and a bit of a shock. Apparently, it's completely natural and due to anthocyaninis, the same compound that makes red cabbage, well, red. Because I knew that my organics box was coming later in the week, I held back somewhat and only bought a few things (missing from the picture was a bag with a dozen habenero chiles for Josh, only $1)
After the market, Jonathan and I picked up Sue and ventured westward where we had lunch plans with Josh (for habenero delivery) and his wife, Jennifer. It was my hope that we would come across some nifty holiday weekend yard sales, but it seems everyone was out of town - or had no energy to set up a tag sale.
Later that afternoon, I picked up Jack (the visitor) from South Station (and the Fung Wah bus), we had dinner at the Local Tavern (the shrimp tacos again for me), dessert and coffee at Athans (mmmm, rice pudding and moist almond cake) and caught up on San Diego gossip. It was great to have a friend visiting me in Boston. Because all of my family and friends are in sunny California (and are convinced it is blizzarding here 9 months of the year - really, it's only 6) I rarely can convince them to come to me. I was so looking forward to sharing the city I've come to adore with someone new. Within the theme of a restful vacation weekend, Jack and I parted ways early in the evening; we had baseball tickets for the next day and I was looking forward to a good night's sleep with no alarm clock... ~Lissa
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I have learned my lesson. I will not try to write out the entire Sunday Night Dinner in one over- sized post. Frankly, even I don't care to read an entry that long. So I have decided to take a page out of Clotilde's book, and post the dinner piece by piece, in the order in which it was served (although not necessarily prepared).
To start this Sunday's dinner, I made fresh ricotta-topped crostini with radishes. Fresh ricotta seems to be much in vogue these days. I had a very similar dish at Marco a little while ago (another one of the 590 posts that I have yet to write up). There was also a recipe for ricotta crostini in this month's Food and Wine, which is the one I followed.
It really is remarkably simple for something that sounds so involved. Boil milk, add acid (lemon juice) and drain the curds. That's it! My dorkhood was shining through on this one. We had to do a very similar experiment in orgo chem lab in college. The acid precipitates out the protein in the milk. Mmmmm. This was much tastier than the orgo lab version, I promise.
Heat 2qt of whole milk, add 3 tbsp of fresh lemon juice, stir for three minutes. Let sit off the flame with the lid on for 5 minutes.
Transfer the curds to a cheesecloth-lined colander using a slotted spoon and let drain for 15 minutes. Gently turn the curds over and let drain for a further 15 minutes. Season with salt.
To assemble the crostini, brush bread (I used a baguette) with olive oil and toast under the broiler. Scoop the ricotta on top of the bread. Top with thinly sliced radishes simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Finish with coarse salt and cracked black pepper.
Fresh ricotta has little in common with the salty, grainy stuff you buy in plastic bins at the grocery store. When made fresh, it is very mild and subtly sweet, and in this case, with a hint of lemon flavor in the background. The ricotta matched well with the radishes (slightly softened from the lemon juice, both in taste and texture) and black pepper. What I made wasn't as creamy as what I had at Marco, but I forgive myself. Unlike the chef/owner of that establishment (Mark Orfaly), I do not have a James Beard Award... Yet.
The crostini were light, crunchy, and creamy all at the same time. They were a great lead-in to the rich risotto I made for the next course... But that's another post.