Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fancy Joes

Ah, Sloppy Joes...

When I was growing up, my mom made dinner every night despite the fact that she worked full time and had four kids. Even more miraculous was the fact that dinner was always fresh and healthy fare - lots of vegetables and chicken and light pastas glistening with olive oil. I was a lucky girl.

That said, that didn't stop me from LOVING going to friends houses for dinner. Their family meals were a thing of wonderment to me - delivered pizza, bags of greasy (but delicious) burgers and fries, and 'homemade' meals with the aid of Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, and of course, canned Sloppy Joe mix. Kid heaven. The funny thing was, those kids loved coming to my house for dinner, where my mom's home cooking filled them up in a way that takeout never could.

Anyway, of all of those retro box mix/canned suppers, Sloppy Joes were my favorite. I still occasionally crave them. However I could never bring myself to buy that damned can of sugary brown goop. It just felt soul less to dump it into a pan of ground beef and call it a day. Even if it did taste as good as I'd remembered, I wouldn't feel good about eating it.

So I decided to create a fresher, homemade version that would satisfy my nostalgia without making me do a walk of shame afterwards. I have no idea what's actually in Sloppy Joe mix and I purposely didn't look it up before attempting my own recipe. Instead I used flavors my childhood memory told me were in them as well as ones my adult palate wanted. I replaced most of the meat with ground turkey with a little ground sirloin to ensure richness. I threw in finely minced piquillo peppers to add some depth, along with bay leaf, ancho chili powder and allspice. Finally, I used Madeira, molasses and just a touch of brown sugar to round it all out. The result isn't the sauce laden Sloppy Joes you remember as a kid, it's better.

I call them Fancy Joes because I'm a dork.

Apparently, the power of 'Joes' is still going strong today. When Kris and I went to Florence Meat Market this morning to buy the ground sirloin, we found ourselves in line behind a father and his young son. The dad happened to overhear me say I was making them and immediately grabbed his son. "Tyler," he said, nodding to us. "They're having Sloppy Joes tonight! You probably want to eat at their house for dinner." The little boy, who had been slumped over the counter like a crumpled napkin, bored out of his mind, shot upright and peeled his eyelids back at us like we were Mickey and Minnie Mouse live and in person.

He clearly did want to go to our house for dinner. He would've gone with us right then and there, even though it was only eleven in the morning. His eager little face stayed on us as we waited for the beef, paid, and headed back out of the store, giving him a wave goodbye before shutting the door behind us.

Fancy Joes
Serves 6.

6 Egg Challah Rolls

1 tablespoon butter
3 small shallots, finely minced
salt and pepper
2 piquillo peppers, finely minced (from a can)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 lb ground turkey (preferably with 7% fat)
1/2 pound ground sirloin or ground round
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup Madeira wine
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon molasses
1 tablespoon ketchup

Heat the butter in a large rimmed nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the piquillo peppers, stir in and saute 2 more minutes. Move the shallots and peppers to one side, making a 'hot spot' for the allspice and chili powder. Add the spices giving them each space to 'toast' for 1 minute, undisturbed, before incorporating into the vegetables. Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the turkey and ground beef, along with a touch more salt and pepper, and cook for 5-7 minutes, until mostly browned. Add the Madeira and bay leaf, and raise the heat if necessary to bring to a light simmer, until the Madeira has reduced by half (do not bring to a full on boil - you will dry out the meat too much.) Lower the heat again slightly, and stir in the brown sugar and molasses. At this point the meat should be fully cooked and you just want to let the sugars meld into the mixture for 2-3 more minutes until fully dissolved. Turn off the heat and stir in the ketchup.

Serve on Challah buns, toasted or untoasted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Braised Lemony Artichokes with Tomatoes and Basil

You have to like artichokes to appreciate this dish, and for your sake, I hope you do. And while I'm not the biggest 30-minute meal (RR) or Sandra Lee fan on the planet, there's something ingenious about being able to throw together a side dish as luscious and comforting as this one in less than 25 minutes, with the help of frozen artichokes and canned diced tomatoes.

I have to say I can finally identify with this type quick cooking, as a woman who thought I'd wind up on the Barefoot Contessa side of things, throwing fabulous dinner parties on weekends and even the occasional weeknight, but who instead is still slugging it out in advertising (and thankful for that option), working insane work weeks upwards of 85 hours.

So, until I win the lottery or am discovered for my incredible kareoke talents, I owe immense gratitude to dishes like these. (And if that damned lottery ever does come through - you're all invited over weekly until the day I die.)

Braised Lemon Artichokes with Tomatoes and Basil
Serves 3-4.

2 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz frozen artichokes
sea salt
1/3 cup white wine
big squeeze lemon juice
1 14.5 oz diced tomatoes, drained
lavendar sea salt, or plain sea salt if that's all that's on hand
big handful fresh basil leaves, torn

Heat the olive oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add the artichokes, season with salt and pepper, reduce heat slightly, and saute for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they've begun to brown.

Add the white wine and lemon juice, and increase heat if necessary to bring to a simmer for 2-3 minutes, until liquid is reduced by half. Dump in the diced tomates and a pinch of lavendar sea salt (or rock salt, or even just plain salt if that's all you have on hand.) Cover and let heat through for 5 minutes, then stir in the basil and cook down for a couple of minutes. You can always put the heat on low and cover if you're waiting for the rest of your meal to come together. This dish is wonderfully forgiving that way.

Nerdy Culinary Aside - I wasn't sure if the method of cooking this dish was legitimate braising or not, but based on this definition from wiki, I think it qualifies?

braise   [breyz] Show IPA Pronunciation
–verb (used with object), braised, brais⋅ing.
to cook (meat, fish, or vegetables) by sautéeing in fat and then simmering slowly in very little liquid.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Crispy Pan Fried Potatoes with Cumin Seeds

Just a quick note because the Oscars are coming on and I'm in a hurry. This recipe is adapted from the book Indian Home Cooking, which my friend Amee says is one of the most authentic Indian cookbooks out there. It's a truly wonderful book that I haven't cooked nearly enough out of - everything I've made has been incredible. Until next time, Happy Oscar watching! Good luck with your picks!

Crispy Potatoes with Cumin Seeds

Adapted from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness.
Serves 4.

1 1/2 small potatoes, either creamer or red boiling
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon kosher
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 Garam Masala

Put the potatoes in a pot with cold water to cover. Bring to a low boil, and cook for 25-30 minutes until tender. Drain rinsing with cold water for a minute, then refrigerate until very cold, at least two hours.

Just before cooking, cut your potatoes into 1 inch cubes. Heat your olive oil over medium high heat and add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant.

Add the potatoes, half the amount of salt, the cracked pepper and cook, stirring often until brown and crispy, about 30-35 minutes. Don't panic if you find bits of potatoes sticking stubbornly to the bottom of the pan. Just scrape free with a wooden spoon before they get too dark and stir into the potatoes. They make great 'crunchies' later. Stir in the garam masala during the last 10 minutes or so of cooking, once you see some browning, along with the rest of the salt, to taste.

Spice Lacquered Salmon with Toasted Coriander Seeds and Cloves

It's official. Everyday Dining with Wine (by Andrea Immer Robinson) is one of my top ten favorite cookbooks. That doesn't mean I've actually tried any of the pairings yet, which is the entire reason I bought it (I had pinot grigio with the salmon last night instead of the recommended syrah) but I haven't been struck down by lightning yet because of this.

This dish is absolutely melt in your mouth delicious and as a bonus, the aroma of spices and dark rum and orange zest will fill your house while it cooks.

I admit to using a lot of ground coriander in my recipes, but I'd never tried coriander seeds before. Andrea suggests toasting the seeds in a dry pan with the black peppercorns and cloves before blending them in a spice grinder and adding them to the wet glaze ingredients.

Do you remember clove gum from when you were little? That's all I could think about while the spices were toasting. The scent was a little time travel machine to being five years old again. Only I'm glad I'm not five, because I wouldn't have the palate to appreciate these flavors.

You know what a recipe fiddler I am, but I wouldn't change a thing here, except for the preparation method (Andrea's recipe had you brush the salmon before pan-searing. I wasn't about to waste all of this delicious glaze, so I slathered it on like a southern girl using Crisco on a rooftop to get a tan, all throughout cooking.)

I served these with crispy cumin seed potatoes, which I'll include in the next post.

Spice-Painted Salmon
Adapted from Everyday Dining with Wine, by Andrea Immer (Robinson)
Serves 2 (the glaze will cover enough salmon for 4 people, if needed, just up the amount of salmon)

• You can assemble the glaze early in the day, and leave in a cool place until ready to cook your salmon. This makes for an impressive but easy Saturday night dinner.

1 large piece of salmon (about 12 oz) or enough for 2 people

2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark rum (I only had regular rum, so I added a teaspoon of molasses)
2 teaspoons orange zest (from one large orange)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

pinch of salt, for seasoning fish
Orange slices and/or cilantro for garnish, optional

First assemble the glaze. Combine the peppercorns, cloves, and coriander seeds in a dry skillet and toast over medium high heat, moving the spices around in the pan constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind coarsely and set aside.

Combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, rum, orange zest, and vinegar in a saucepan. Stir in the spice mixture, and bring to medium heat (a light simmer), stirring constantly, until reduced to 1/4 cup. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside. Have a large, nonstick skillet ready on your stove, then prepare your salmon by lightly seasoning the flesh side with salt, then 'painting' the flesh side liberally with the glaze. Heat your skillet over medium high heat for 1 minute (it's not good to heat nonstick pans for long by themselves), then add the salmon flesh side down to sear for 3 minutes, lowering heat to medium heat. While it's searing, paint the skin side with the glaze, as well as the edges. Carefully flip over, glazing the flesh side again, and sear for 5-6 minutes. If you like your salmon medium rare, you can just take it off the heat and let it rest before serving. But if you're me, carefully transfer it to your prepared baking sheet, glazing the top again liberally before putting into the oven for 8-10 minutes, until just cooked through.

Let rest for 5 minutes, then slice in half and serve.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Making the most of the long side of winter.

(In this post - Zuchinni, Bell Pepper, and Tomato Gratin with Parmesan Cheese and Bread Crumbs. Scroll to bottom for recipe.)

I know we're all dreaming of wearing bathing suits and flip flops right now. I personally can't even look in the mirror lately, as the sight of my paleness makes me jump out of my shoes. I'm almost translucent. However, my guess is these random bouts of above average temperatures in NYC are just a practical joke on Mother Nature's part, so we shouldn't get too excited. (Can you tell I'm a pessimist?)

But in the meantime, we can pull out those winter recipes we haven't gotten around to making yet. This is one of my favorites. It's a simple vegetable gratin that lacks the heavy cream and dragging weight of too much cheese that other gratins have (bikinis are on the horizon after all.) The olive oil and oven also magically 'perk up' any veggies lacking their summer oomph.

Serve it with a lean protein and a nice bottle of wine, and remember that before too long, we'll all be bitching about the heat;)

Zuchinni, Bell Pepper and Tomato Gratin with Parmesan and Bread Crumbs
Serves 4-5 as a side dish.

1 zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
1 yellow bell pepper, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 yellow summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
1 large ripe tomato, cut into 1/4-inch thick pieces
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
4 tablespoons dried Italian-style bread crumbs, divided
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease the bottom of an 8 by 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Line with a layer of the sliced zuchinni. Sprinkle over a small pinch of salt and pepper to season. Add a layer of yellow bell pepper, spacing the slices out evenly, then a layer of the red bell pepper. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs then drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil evenly over the top. Add a layer of the summer squash, then the tomato slices. Sprinkle over the rest of the bread crumbs, the Parmesan, and finally the rest of the olive oil. Finish with a tiny bit of fresh cracked pepper and place in the oven for 55 minutes, or until top is golden brown and veggies are bubbling (you can crank up the heat for the last ten minutes to brown, if necessary, but don't rush the cooking time or the veggies won't have reached their maximum potential.) Remove from the oven and sprinkle over some leaves of fresh basil, then allow to cool/set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is there a compulsive cookbook buyer's hotline I can call?

I did it again, God help me. It was Saturday - Valentine's Day - and there I was standing in Strand book store smack in the middle of the cookbook section. Everything went blurry, and then suddenly I found myself out on the street again, holding a bag filled with...wait for it...THREE cookbooks.

This, after a New Year's resolution that I wasn't going to buy anymore until I cooked from every single one I already own. (Though clearly I was under some sort of chemical influence when I made this that would literally takes years. In fact, if you're into cookbooks, I'd become BFFs with me, fast. You could find yourself inheriting one of the world's most vast, if not random, cookbook collections going.)

Anyway, the thing about Strand is, they have every single cookbook known to man, many of which are on sale. You just have to have the patience and tenacity to endure the tight quarters filled with sweaty browsers and occasionally risk your life by climbing one of the ladders to reach the books closer to the 14 foot ceiling. And while I'm not necessarilly a competitive person by nature (just as anyone who's seen me attempt any sport besides horseback riding or aerobics - anyone), when it comes to hunting books, I am a falconer. Lord help anyone who goes after a book I'm interested in - I'll take you down.

The above picture is actually an old one of me and my friend Ryan in Cannes last year. I have no memory of what we were doing, but I thought it was a fitting image for this post. It looks like he's trying to save me from buying another cookbook.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Molten Chocolate Cakes with Raspberry Sauce

I can describe this recipe in four words: Get In My Belly.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes with Raspberry Sauce
* To further gild the lilly, add two small scoops of gelato over the top just before serving. The husband likes Il Labratorio Gelato's malt flavor and dark chocolate with these.
Adapted from via Pam Anderson

Molten Chocolate Cakes Ingredients:
1 cup salted butter
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, or bars, cut into bite-size chunks
5 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract or vanilla extract
4 teaspoons flour (or matzo meal, ground in a blender to a fine powder)
4-6 Ramekins, depending on size
Cocoa Powder, for dusting ramekins
extra butter, for buttering ramekins

Molten Chocolate Cake Directions:
Melt butter and chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; remove from heat. Beat eggs, sugar and extract with a hand mixer in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Beat egg mixture into chocolate until smooth. Beat in flour or matzo meal until just combined. (Batter can be made a day ahead; return to room temperature an hour or so before baking.)
Before serving dinner, adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Butter your ramekins and dust with cocoa powder to prevent sticking. Divide the batter among the ramekins, leaving at least 3/4 inch from the top for them to rise. Bake until batter puffs but center is not set, 8 to 10 minutes. Either carefully tip over, using hot pads to invert each one onto serving dishes or just serve in the ramekins, topping with raspberry sauce and any other toppings of your choosing, including whipped cream, ice cream or gelato, fresh berries, or sprigs of fresh mint.

Raspberry Sauce Ingredients:
1 pint fresh raspberries
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cold water

Raspberry Sauce Directions:
Combine the raspberries, sugar, and orange juice in a saucepan. Whisk the cornstarch into the cold water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil.
Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the desired consistency is reached. The sauce will thicken further as it cools. Remove from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes before pureeing in a blender or with a handheld immersion blender. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. (Just reheat in the microwave or on the stove, adding a little juice or water to loosen it up.) The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Nigella's Finger-Lickin' Ribs

(To just see the recipe, please scroll to the bottom.)

Happy Valentine's Day!

I have to admit something. In theory, I'm the biggest fan of Valentine's Day on earth, but in reality, it makes me nervous. I blame a lot of this trepidation on advertising - years of seeing cheesy commercials where women get everything from a diamond tennis bracelet to a new dust buster on the 'big day' followed by a night out on the town. Movies are even worse. The whole bedroom covered in rose petals thing? A whirlwind trip to Paris? Expectations are a dangerous thing...

But this year, I've promised to mellow myself and my expectations. I'm just thrilled to have the day off, for one thing. And for the other, I'm making a simple but fun meal. Something that seems humbly un-over the top at first glance, but whose powers I have a feeling, will slowly but surely infiltrate the meal.

I won't go into the descriptive detail that Nigella does for these ribs - I blush too easily. But let's just say that anything you eat with your hands is sexy in my book. I'll also say I've run the gammet of textures here - starting with a creamy, cool hummus with crunchy spiced pita chips, then onto the sticky ribs and a fresh citrus spiked salad with warm goat cheese rounds, and finally the volcanic little dark chocolate cakes. Come to think of it, that's the best Valentine's present I could ask for.

Growing up, I remember my parents being obsessed with ribs. I don't know if this is accurate or not, but it's the image my memory's held onto. I remember countless Saturdays bbq-ing ribs, scouring the back roads of Texas for the best underground ribs, and visiting the backyards and ranches of friends to compare bbq notes over a cold, frosty glass of beer (the parents - not me.)

So while ribs hold a fond place in my heart, I have to admit I've never liked them until recently. And now that I'm into them, I see exactly where the fascination lies. There are any number of ways to prepare them - from dry rubs to marinades to roasting to grilling to any combination there of. Falling in love with ribs is like diving into the rabbit hole, head first. There's no looking back.

This recipe comes from Nigella's book, Feast. And while she describes them as Finger Lickin' - I have to caveat that they're not actually the sticky, sauce-covered ribs that this description conjures in a Texan's mind. They're actually quite clean and sauce-free. It's the flavor that's 'saucy' with these guys - a zesty, sassy kick in the pants from the lime, ginger, and hot pepper. In fact, if you like things really hot, I'd up it to 2 peppers or add a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Finger-Lickin' Ribs
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 3-4.

8 pork spare ribs, separated

1 small onion, peeled, halved, and cut into small wedges
1 star anise, or 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 small cinnamon stick, broken into splinters and shards
1 jalapeno, minced (it's up to you to leave the seeds or not, depending on how hot you like - I leave half of them)
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, grated or finely minced
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup pineapple juice (I had to sub apple juice)
1 smashed garlic clove

Chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Add all of the marinade ingredients - the small onion through the garlic clove - to a large Ziploc bag. Seal and squish around until all are well incorporated. Add the ribs and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 10. (These are perfect to put together in the morning, then just cook that evening.)

Remove the ribs from the fridge and let come to room temperature before baking - at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the ribs and the marinade ingredients into a large roasting pan (one that can fit everything comfortably in a shallow pool of the marinade), trying to place the majority of the onions under the ribs to provide a bed and prevent the ribs from burning. Roast for 35 minutes, until the tops of the ribs have begun to bronze. Carefully flip the ribs to the other side, and roast another 30-35 minutes, until the other side has bronzed nicely. (If you haven't let the ribs come to room temperature before roasting, they may need a little longer, so adjust accordingly.)

Remove and let rest for ten minutes before serving, scattering with cilantro or parsley if desired.

Update: The husband wowed me - I got a beautiful pair of pearl earrings!!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pumpkin Pie in February

You know, when I started this blog, I thought I'd be one of those organized people that posted seasonal recipes relevant to the time of year that people ate them. But you know what? I'm not organized. In fact it's a miracle I've bathed everyday this week, gotten myself to work each morning, and mustered the energy to post a recipe. And you know what else? I like to eat pumpkin pie for breakfast, not dessert. So if you want to get technical about things, this recipe is relevant any time of year.

Pumpkin Pie
* A quick note - I like a LOT of spices in my pumpkin pie. When my mother in law Charlotte asked me why my pie was so dark, I told her I usually up the spices recommended. Let's be honest - unless you're a professional baker - half your spices are probably in their twilight years, their flavor subdued by time and storage. But if by chance you are one of those despised, organized people who actually throws your unused spices away every six months, then please feel free to use a lighter hand. Freak.

Brown Sugar Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook
Makes one 8 inch pie.

1 store bought refrigerated pie crust
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin pie puree
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Mexican vanilla extract, or plain vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375. Line an 8 inch pie plate with the rolled out pie crust, gently letting it settle into the plate. Trim and crimp the edges to your liking (I never take the time to make my pies pretty, but feel free to make little leaf shapes with the trimmed crust if you're into that sort of thing.) Put the readied crust into the fridge while you make the filling.

Combine the pumpkin puree with the rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl, either by hand or with the use of a hand mixer or Kitchen Aid until well blended. Pour into the prepared pie crust and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the pie crust is nicely browned and the custard is set (no longer jiggles when gently shaken and/or comes out fairly clean when tested with a toothpick.) You may need to apply some aluminum foil around the edges of the crust midway through baking to prevent the crust from burning (or a 'pie shield' if you have it - the best $4 I've ever spent!) Let cool on a rack before serving. Store in the refrigerator.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Seared Duck Breast with Madeira Sauce and Root Vegetable Confetti

(To just see the recipes, please scroll to the bottom;)

Thank you Food and Wine magazine. You not only showed me an incredible way to prepare duck this week, but you introduced me to Madeira, a fortified wine from Portugal. (You know I love to put booze in my recipes and now I have a new one to play with!)

Madeira is everything I wanted Marsala, Italy's fortified wine, to be. It's unapologetically flavorful - a liquid layer cake of sweet and spicy. When I first opened up a bottle and smelled it, I wanted to crawl inside of it and swim around like a mermaid.

The duck in this recipe was only supposed to marinate for 30 minutes, a detail I happened to overlook and instead marinated mine for 3 days. Mistake or not, that's the way I'll make it from here on out. A dead drunk duck breast is far superior to a tipsy one, in my opinion.

Duck Breasts with Roasted Root Vegetables and Madeira Sauce
Adapted from Food and Wine magazine, per Motor Supply Company Bistro (Columbia, South Carolina)
Serves 2.

* As I mentioned, I marinated my duck breast for 3 days. I also made the sauce two days ahead, put in the refrigerator, then just reheated on the stove while my vegetables roasted. This made a fancy weekend dinner an easily doable weeknight one.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
salt and pepper
1 cup Madeira
1 whole star anise (OR SUB 1/8 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 cup low sodium chicken stock

Heat a medium, heavy pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, allowing to hear through for 1 minute, then shallots. Season with salt and pepper and saute, stirring every so often, for 4-5 minutes until softened. Add the Madeira, star anise or Chinese Five Spice powder, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil for ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced to 1/4 cup. Add the chicken broth and return to a boil for another ten minutes, or until liquid nets 1/3 cup. Spoon over duck or cool and refrigerate until you're ready to use. Don't forget to remove the cinnamon stick, star anise, and bay leaf before serving or storing.

Roasted Root Vegetables:
2 beets, washed and scrubbed, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 small carrot, washed and scrubbed, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 small parsnips (or 1 large), washed and scrubbed, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
couple tablespoons olive oil
sea salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Place your vegetables on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle over a good amount (large pinch) sea salt of kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over, making sure there's enough to coat each vegetable piece as well as a little leftover for the bottom of the pan as a bed, to prevent burning. Put veggies in the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 for ten minutes, remove from oven and flip over. Return to oven for 25 minutes, or until nicely browned on the other side and a little shrunken (this indicates a deepening of flavor and that they're cooked all the way through.) Remove and set aside (if they're done early, you can take them out, then just return them to a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes or so until reheated through.)

1 nice-sized duck breast (enough meat for two people)
1/4 cup Madeira
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 whole star anise, or 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter, for pan searing

Using a sharp knife, gently score skin side of duck breast diagonally to create a 1/4 inch diamond pattern. Place the rest of the marinade ingredients (Madeira through cinnamon stick) in a large Ziploc bag and slosh around to meld. Add the duck breast, seal and refrigerate for at least 8 hours (or as I recommend - 3 days!)

Remove duck from fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Remove from marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside. Preheat your oven to 375 (if you're making the vegetables above, your oven should already be on.) Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy, medium sized, oven proof skillet over medium/high heat (if you don't have an oven proof one - just transfer the duck to an aluminum lined, Pam sprayed cookie sheet after searing to bake off.) When the oil/butter is hot, add the duck skin side down. Reduce heat slightly, and sear for 7 minutes, until some of the fat has rendered from the skin and it's begun to crisp up to a deep golden brown. If you like your duck cooked to medium or medium well, flip and cook another 3 minutes on the other side. If not, simply flip the duck and transfer your skillet to the oven for about 12 minutes for medium rare and 15-18 minutes for medium to medium well. (The original instructions indicate to cook the duck for less on a much higher temperature - but my tiny oven smokes to much with the fatty skin of a duck inside it, so I've adjusted the recipe for NYC living. I also prefer my duck to be tragically over cooked compared to the culinary chic-ness of medium rare. But it's my duck and I'll eat it as I want to.)

Remove from the oven and let rest for ten minutes before slicing and serving in a fan over a bed of the root vegetables, drizzled with the Madeira sauce.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Crispy Spiced Chicken with Coconut Veggie Rice

It really makes me feel better when I read other cooks admitting to having severe lapses of laziness. I'm feeling really lazy this week, to the point where I've actually chosen to exercise the past two nights instead of making dinner. This may sound weird coming from someone who loves to cook, but I don't think it is. The fact is wether you love to cook or not, sometimes just the thought of digging out a pan is enough to make you want to hide in the closet with a bag of Fritos and a six pack, which I've also done before, except on the couch.

Anyway, I'm finally up to cooking tonight, mainly because I found a recipe that includes the veggies in the rice, keeping me from having to cook two side dishes (a culinary 2 in 1!) I adapted it from a lovely Food and Wine book my mom gave me years ago called 'One-Dish Meals.'

I actually found that the chicken cooks better when you brown it off in the oven after searing while the rice and veggies finish on the stove (no hardship on my part, given the fact that I can sit down and drink some wine, while the magic happens.) Not to mention the fact that the pan searing/oven roasting combo makes the chicken skin extra crispy (almost chip like!), which let's face it, is the only way to eat it, if you're going to eat it...

Indonesian Coconut Rice with Chicken and Zuchinni

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 bone in, skin on chicken breasts (actually and technically - two SPLIT chicken breasts, skin on and bone in)
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons ground cardamom, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
1/2 cup minced shallots or onions
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (13) oz can light coconut milk (or regular)
2 small yellow (summer) squash, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/3 cup green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 cups long grain rice

Remove chicken breasts from fridge and set out for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Meanwhile, season your chicken breasts with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/2 coriander, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Heat a large dutch oven over medium, high heat. Add oil, and allow to heat through - about 1 minute.

Add chicken breasts, skin side down, and let cook for 10-12 minutes (lowering heat slightly if it begins to smoke/spit too much) until skin is a nicely bronzed golden brown. Flip to the other side, and cook another 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an aluminum foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet to transfer chicken to, sprayed with nonstick spray.

Transfer chicken to baking sheet and put in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, add your shallots to the same dutch oven, seasoning with another teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Cooking, stirring every so often, for 5-6 minutes until softened. Add the squash, carrot and green beans and cook another 5 minutes. Stir in the rest of the seasonings (the cumin, additional coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon) and rice and cook one more minute. Stir in the coconut milk and chicken stock, raise heat and bring to a simmer. Stir well, and cover, stirring every so often to keep bottom from sticking until rice is cooked - about 15-20 minutes. Taste for salt, adding any more if necessary, and serve alongside the crispy chicken.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Herbed Turkey Burgers with Swiss on Toasted English Muffins

Superbowl Sunday was really weird this year. I didn't have a single cocktail, didn't make or eat any party food, and spent most of it sitting in front of my computer working, wistfully glancing over at the TV now and then. It was like I'd switched lives with someone boring and responsible. I didn't like that person.

The only good thing that came of it was these turkey burgers. I've had to resort to making my own since my favorite neighborhood take out place (yes WESTVILLE, you) started putting entire garlic cloves in their patties. It doesn't make for a sexy night of couch surfing, I'll tell you. In fact the last time I ate theirs I wished I could have had my tongue surgically removed.

But I did add a little Superbowl touch to mine, as I'd bought some French Onion dip for the boyfriend, and added a little to the patty mixture. You could easily substitute sour cream or even Greek yogurt if your fridge doesn't usually house such college student/bachelor pad ingredients...

Herbed Turkey Burgers with Swiss on Toasted English Muffins
Makes 5 small to medium patties.

1 pound lean ground turkey
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon french onion dip or sour cream
2 tablespoons panko or other breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon finely minced chives
1 teaspoon finely minced flat leaf parsley
1 clove of garlic, finely minced (if you really want to taste the garlic - use 2)
zest of 1 small lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt

fresh cracked pepper and salt, for seasoning outside of patties
1 teaspoon olive oil, for frying burgers

5 Swiss cheese slices (or 10 if you're like my husband)
5 halved, toasted English muffins

Preheat the oven to 350. Take the turkey meat out of the fridge and let sit out for 30 minutes (to allow for easier combining.) Add the meat to a large bowl and sprinkle over the rest of the ingredients - the coriander to the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix (I prefer to use my hands - but feel free to use a large spoon) until well combined, but be careful not to over work - otherwise you'll fry up some darling little slabs of concrete:) Form into five (or four large) turkey patties, season with salt and pepper, and set aside. Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium/high heat, adding the olive oil and allowing to heat for 1 minute. Add burgers, cooking 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a greased, rimmed baking sheet and top with the Swiss slices. Put in the oven for 10 minutes, to finish cooking and allow the cheese to melt. Place on toasted English muffins, and top with herbed mayo, if desired.

Herbed Mayo (optional - for spreading on burgers:)
1/4 cup light mayo
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
zest of 1 lemon

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mary had a little lamb chop.

I feel extremely conflicted and hypocritical for eating lamb. In fact, I wish I'd never been introduced to the delectable, sweet flavor of lamb chops.

Actually, I'm lying to you. Discovering lamb chops was like discovering chocolate or wine for me - life wouldn't be the same without them. Luckily, the price of good chops keeps me from eating the cute little bastards very often, so I'm not responsible for too many lamb murders.

If you've never eaten lamb before, I recommend starting with loin chops, as they are both gentle and exciting to a virgin palette. Once you get a taste for it, you might decide to move onto the slightly stronger yet still delicious leg of lamb (though its preparation requires more attention and babysitting to get any gaminess out of the meat.)

And because I've already dug myself a bit of an ethical mud hole with this post, I might as well bring up something that changed my perspective on eating meat a few years ago. I was standing in a Barnes and Noble, skimming the cookbook section (as I find myself doing a couple times a month in a Hitchcockian/deja vu sort of way, not remembering how I got there but there just the same) when I picked up Jamie Oliver's cookbook, Jamie's Italy.

I was flipping through it, already feeling my credit card crawling out of my purse and towards my fingertips, when I came across an image of an Italian farmer smiling and hugging a lamb around the neck. Only upon closer inspection, I realized he wasn't hugging it, but rather holding it up, having just slashed its throat. I nearly threw the book across the room and hauled ass out of there. I considered the ways in which I would deal with this revolting display of cruelty on the way home - start an anti Jamie Oliver website, stalk him next time he appeared on the Today Show with a bucket of red paint, or possibly just go about it the old fashioned way and write a letter. Time passed and I did none of those things. I did the classic 'me' thing and simply blocked it out.

Cut to me in another Barnes & Noble a few months later. The book smiled at me again from its proud position on the best sellers stand. I gave it the evil eye and turned my back. But before I knew it, I had it open again, turned back to that horrific image. Thank God this time I actually read the accompanying chapter where Jamie promptly defended it, opening my eyes to how dumb I am. I can't remember his exact words (still can't quite buy the damned thing), but he basically explained he included the image to show people that the farmer had killed the lamb in the most endearing and humane way, holding it to his chest, moving the knife as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The lamb had never been crowded in the truly horrific confines of a slaughterhouse, packed like a sardine amongst its peers for weeks suffering the hurricane of flies and bugs found in such circumstances. Nor did it have to suffer the inhumane slaughtering method still used by so many of these places (and animal or not - they do know what's coming to them. I once showed up at the ranch where I boarded my usually Xanax-demeanored mare to find her frantically pawing at her stall door, eyes as wide and white as cue balls. When I walked past the barn, I found they'd just slaughtered their prized hiefer and strung her up for skinning.)

Rather, the little guy or gal lamb had just gone out for a walk one day with its owner not knowing the wiser. No pain. No brutality or torture. No prolonged, terrifying lead up - the way I hope to go myself some day. Aha! So that's why Jamie put the image in his book - to make us think about how animals get to our plates.

Well, it worked on me. I now try to buy grass fed beef as much as possible, free range chickens, and the like. And not just for karma's sake, but for my own health too, as these animals aren't pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals to compensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions. After all, if I'm going to eat meat, I don't want to feel extra guilty about it.

And now...who's hungry? I could go for some lamb - humanely raised of course...

Rosemary and Meyer Lemon Lamb Chops with Couscous (Below)
Serves 2

Lamb Ingredients:
4 loin lamb chops
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1 small garlic clove, smashed

salt and pepper, for seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter, for pan frying

Pan Sauce:
1/4 cup vermouth or white wine
juice from 1 meyer lemon
1 tablespoon salted butter

Combine the rosemary, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil in a large Ziploc. Add your lamb chops and smush around to be sure the exterior of each chop gets some of the love. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, or if you're short on time, leave them out at room temperature for 30 minutes to absorb the flavors.

Remove the chops from the ziploc (discarding the garlic) and season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside while you heat up your olive oil and butter in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Once the butter has begun to foam, add the lamb chops, reducing the heat to medium, and allow to cook for four minutes (many people advise 2 minutes, but I like mine medium versus rare.) Carefully flip to the other side and cook another 4-5 minutes, until you've gotten a nice seared crust on the other side (again - less if you like yours rare.) Remove and transfer to a platter to rest while you make your sauce.

To start the sauce, drain off the excess fat from your pan (but DO NOT wipe clean.) Turn the heat onto medium high, and add the vermouth and lemon juice, bringing to a boil and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Allow to simmer until reduced by half, then lower the heat and stir in the salted butter to melt. Drizzle the warm sauce over the plated chops.

Couscous with Shallots, Meyer Lemon Zest, Currants and Pine Nuts
Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup couscous
zest of 1 meyer lemon
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons currants or dried cherries

fresh cracked black pepper
sea or kosher salt

Heat a medium rimmed and lidded skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until softened - about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, raise heat to high, and bring to a boil. Once it's boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the couscous and lemon zest. Put the lid on and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove lid, fluff with a fork, and stir in the pine nuts and currants or cherries. Taste for salt and pepper (I usually find I need to add a good pinch of salt if I've used low sodium chicken stock.) Serve hot.