Monday, March 31, 2008

Toast to Make you Feel 5 Again

When I was little, one of the biggest morning treats was cinnamon sugar toast (as it was, no doubt, for most people I know.) One of the sad things about growing up is that these dishes we remember so fondly from our childhood don't hold up to our adult palates (canned chicken noodle soup for instance and boxed mac and cheese now taste like a sad imposter of the treats they once were.)

But one morning last month after a late night of imbibing, I was desperate for something to quiet my stomach (and aching head.) I needed something comforting and sweet, for obvious reasons, and most of all something I could throw together at 12% brain capacity. Finding my pantry cupboard completely empty save for a loaf of white bread (this is Kris's addiction, not mine), I had a flash of genius. Cinnamon sugar toast.

Now I have to clarify that when I initially set out to make this embarrasingly nutritionally void breakfast, I didn't hold out any hopes that it would actually be good. It was simply to be a means to an end, as I don't partake in hair of the dog fixes but use sugar to battle my hangovers instead. I couldn't even remember the proper way to make it and instead improvised what made the most sense to me in the state of mind I was in. I started by taking a few tablespoons of butter and melting them in a wide rimmed bowl in the microwave. I shoved two pieces of white bread in the toaster then grabbed the sugar and bottle of cinnamon. When the toast popped out, I briefly dipped one side into the butter, spooned over some sugar over the buttered side (just enough so that there is a fine layer of white residue left over on the bread after the melted butter absorbs most of it), then sprinkled liberally with the cinnamon.

It didn't even occur to me how truely nostalgic this little dish was until the cinnamon sugar hit the melted butter and began wafting throughout my kitchen. Even my cat mustered the energy to look up from her nap to sniff at the air, as if the scent made her wistful for another lifetime when she was human and got to eat food that didn't just come in pellet form.

Then I tasted it. Not only was I instantly 5 again, but it was even better than I remembered. The sand-like crunch against the pillowy interior, bound together by the sweet butter, is a result greater than its parts. And just in case you think my 'condition' influenced my reaction, I have made it twice since (sans hangover.) In my opinion, this is worth making for breakfast, for a treat, or for a trip back to childhood, anyday.

Cinnamon Sugar Toast:

2 slices white sandwich bread (I used Pepperidge Farm)
4 tablespoons butter, melted in an oven proof wide rimmed bowl in the microwave
1/4 cups sugar, used at your discretion
2 teaspoons cinnamon

This is an assemly line recipe rather than exact science. You may want to use less sugar or more or less cinnamon, so adjust to your own tastes.

Toast bread in a toaster oven. Meanwhile, melt butter in a wide rimmed bowl in microwave. Briefly dip one side of each piece of toast into the butter, then place on a serving plate, buttered side up. Sprinkle sugar over them, just until there is a fine veil of the sugar crystals remaining on the bread after the butter has absorbed all it will (I would guess this is only about 1 1/2 tablespoons per slice but this depends entirely on the size of your bread.) Sprinkle with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon over each slice. If there's any butter remaining, drizzle just a little over the sugared toast for even more of an indulgence.

* One note here about the bread. This is one recipe that in my opinion, doesn't get better with tinkering or culinary upgrades. Regular white sandwich bread such as Wonderbread is what you need here to get that lovely soft interior against the crunchy sugar crust.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hummus and Homemade Pita Chips

Another one from Paula Disbrowe...

When Paula described liking her hummus as light and creamy as buttercream, I thought - aren't we being just a tad dramatic to describe a simple Middle Eastern spread? I was also a little put off by her addition of plain yogurt (not that I have anything against yogurt - it's becoming my signature ingredient in the way that butter is Paula Dean's and Mascarpone is Giada's.) But I'd never seen this added before and it struck me as a weird form of cheating.

Luckily I got over myself. Her addition of yogurt has to be the trick to getting such a luxurious, silky texture. Here's to cheating!

Paula Disbrowe's Smoky Hummus:

1 to 2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 to 3 tablespoons sesame tahini
1/3 cup plain yogurt (I prefer Greek!)
2 Lemons, juiced
4 to 6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoke spanish parprika or aleppo pepper
Hot sauce

Please the garlic, rosemary, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely chopped. Add the chickpeas and process until they are broken down. Add the tahini, yogurt, the juice of 1 lemon, 4 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, and smoked paprika and process until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and lemon juice, the remaining olive oil, and hot sauce to acheve the desired balance and consistency. Puree until very smooth. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days. For the best flavor, bring to room temperature before serving and garnish with an additional drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika or Aleppo pepper as desired, and a sprig of rosemary.

Cumin Dusted Homemade Pita Chips:

1 package best quality pita bread
olive oil, for brushing
coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons fresh chopped herbs such as flat leaf parsley or oregano for garnishing, optional

Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the pita rounds into wedges (quarters.) I find it's easy to stack all of the pita rounds on top of one another and slice through all of them at once. Grease or brush a large rimmed baking sheet (you may need a couple) with olive oil, then lay pita slices out on the sheet, spreading out evenly. Brush the pita lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt then cumin and coriander. Flip slices over and repeat with oil, salt, and spices. Feel free to add more spices if you like (the more I make these, the more cumin I end up adding.)

Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and quickly flip over with tongs or a spatula, then return to the oven and bake another 4-5 minutes or just until golden brown.

Remove and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs if desired. Serve with hummus or any other dip you prefer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Yogurt Chicken and Spicy Sweet Potatoes

Kris and I have a hard time eating the same thing over and over again - even if we love it. Part of that is living in NYC and constantly being exposed to new things that we want to try making at home. The other reason is that I have a hard time justifying my ever-expanding cookbook collection if I just make the same things over and over.

This next recipe is an exception. If I'm too lazy to try something new, it's our standby. If we've had a bad week and want to de-stress with a meal we know will be great, it's our standby. If company's coming or if we want to cook something we feel is semi good for us, it's our standby.

I can't say enough about this meal. You'll want to use Greek yogurt here, whole milk if you can bare it (you scrape most of this off anyway before cooking) but please don't try using the fat free variety (0% variety) - crack open a Lean Cuisine and call it a day if that's your gig.

The key is marinating the chicken for at least 8 hours, but I prefer doing so overnight (you can also make the yogurt sauce the night before too which makes pulling the whole thing together the night of a breeze.)

If you've never broiled meat before, don't be afraid. I was terrified the first time I made it that it would be charred on the outside and raw on the inside. But, allowing your chicken to sit out for 30 minutes before cooking prevents this. Also, really watch it while it cooks, doing your first 'check' at 8 minutes. Two cutlets shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes, and as frightful as it is to cook meat for that short a period of time, 8 minutes is all it takes in my broiler drawer. I imagine you could also grill the chicken if it's that time of year.

Yogurt Chicken:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 small tub Greek yogurt (usually 5.3 oz, preferably whole or 2% Fage)
1 chunk gresh ginger (3-4 inches) either grated or chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
coarse salt - about 3/4 teaspoon
small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
2-3 shallots, chopped
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
zest of one lime

Mix the yogurt with the ginger, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, herbs, shallots, and lime zest. Place chicken breast in a large ziploc or medium tupperware and cover with marinade, being sure to turn to coat and really piling on the mixture to give them a good soaking. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat your broiler oven. Remove the chicken from the marinade and scrape off excess (don't be tempted to leave large hunks clinging onto the chicken - it will only burn.) Grease a pan with a rack in it, place breasts on the rack and put in the oven. Check starting at 8 minutes - breasts are done when the edges are JUST beginning to char and the thin veil of marinade on the meat has completely lost its glossy wetness and become a chalky, dull white.

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce:

This can be whipped together while the chicken broils, but I have done this the day before with good results. The mixture will look a bit watery and sad - just stir it together and remind yourself looks aren't everything. Or you could mix everything but the lime juice together the day before, holding off this ingredient until the last minute.)

1 small tub whole or 2% Greek yogurt
1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped
1 handful of fresh mint, rough chopped
1 large handful cilantro, rough chopped
1 medium cucumber, cubed into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
juice of 1/2 lime

Mix alltogether and let sit for at least 30 minutes in the fridge before serving. Spoon over hot chicken when dishing, or serve alongside for people to serve themselves.

Spicy Sweet Potatoes:

Preheat oven to 425. If making with the above chicken, you can just start this 45 minutes before putting the chicken in. If they're not done by the time you need to raise the temperature to broil, they can withstand the intense heat - just keep a strict eye on them as they'll go quickly. I've actually blackened these on accident and still thought they tasted good - but ideally you're looking for a golden dark bronze in the finished product, not jet black. One more thing - if you like your potatoes crispy, add the lime juice and zest to the cubed potatoes before baking, along with the olive oil and other seasoning. If you want a more intense lime infused zing and don't mind a softer potato, toss at the end of baking with the lime juice and zest.

3 yams (or red skinned sweet potatoes), cubed into 1 inch chunks
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil

zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint, optional
2 tablespoons minced cilantro, optional

Grease a large roasting tray/edged baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine the cubed sweet potatoes with the red pepper flakes, salt, olive oil, (and lime zest and juice, if doing so now.) Dump onto the baking sheet spacing out as best as possible. Bake for 20 minutes then flip so that they cook evenly. Put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove and toss with fresh herbs (and lime juice and zest, if doing so now) and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Apologies for the Radio Silence, and Lack of Food

My dear (and few and far between) readers:

I have been accosted by a brief but precious lapse of hard work, followed by an incredibly vindictive and hefty work schedule, which has crushed me like a bug.

But please, stay tuned. I have been cooking (and trying) to write down what I've cooked with faithful dedication. The pictures are vast (yet terribly ugly, as usual.)

So please bare with me. I'll be updating with recipes, restaurant experiences, and general genius observance on life, very soon.


The Meat and Potatoes Foodie