Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mexican Rice

Life is funny sometimes. I spent my first 30 years hating rice. It's not like it ever did anything to me or that I got sick after eating it - I just didn't care for it. It was plain, expected, and just kind of sat there, which is why any time I was at a Mexican restaurant, I'd order double beans instead.

Then two years ago I made a rice pilaf with toasted pine nuts, parsley and lemon zest...and loved it. Rice was suddenly this mysterious, intriguing stranger, chameleon-like in its ability to take on different flavors and textures.

Now I make it all the time. This is my husband's favorite version that I patterned after the rice served at Mexicana Mama, our favorite local Mexican joint. Peas and carrots go together like...well, peas and carrots but again you can add anything you like if you're not a fan. Fresh chopped cilantro would be a nice addition at the end.

Mexican Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions or shallots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup rice
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

Add the oil to a medium, thick bottomed sauce pan and put the burner on medium/low heat. Add the onions, sprinkling with salt and fresh cracked pepper and cook until translucent stirring every so often - about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and cook another 5 minutes until softened. Add the stock, cover and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, cover and lower the heat to low so that it's simmering but not spastically boiling/kicking the lid off the pot and let cook for 20 minutes, just until the rice sets. Stir gently to fluff adding in the paprika and peas. Taste for salt/seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pan Seared Chicken Cutlets with Orange Balsamic Glaze

I made this chicken up the other night and I think it's a nice twist on plain old chicken cutlets. What's interesting is - you get that lovely mellow orange flavor with just a touch of sweetness, reminiscent of Orange Beef from Chinese takeout, but there's not a drop of sugar or honey in here. The flavor simply comes from reducing the orange juice and balsamic for several minutes until the natural sugar therein decides to make an appearance.

I just made mine plain jane because I was too lazy to go up to the roof and snip rosemary (I like to pretend it's because it was raining outside but you and I know the truth) but I think the sauce could become even more interesting with a little addition of something. The Asian flavor could be dialed up with toasted sesame seeds or chopped cilantro or green onion. Or you could go more wine country, playing off the balsamic, with something like the rosemary.

By the way, Pinot Noir seemed to like this dish. It wanted me to tell you that.

Pan Seared Chicken Cutlets with Orange Balsamic Glaze over Cauliflower Puree
Serves 2.

Ingredients for Chicken:
2 chicken cutlets (boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded flat but not too flat that they won't hold up in the pan)
salt and pepper, for seasoning
1/3 cup flour for dredging
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
juice and zest of 1 orange (should provide somewhere between 1/3 cup and 1/2)
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
dash salt
Options for seasoning - small pinch fresh rosemary leaves, chopped/fresh cilantro leaves/lightly toasted sesame seeds

Instructions for Chicken:
Season the chicken cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Pour the flour into a pie plate or small, aluminum lined baking sheet, and dredge the chicken through on both sides. Shake them gently, then repeat. You want a decent coating for this recipe (i.e. it's okay if the chicken is now white from flour versus a light dredging.) Set aside.

Add the olive oil to a medium, rimmed skillet and put over a burner on medium heat. Let heat through for at least one minute, so the chicken will sear when added and not lie there limply soaking up the oil. Add the chicken - dipping one edge in first to see if it sears - if not, hold off another 30 seconds. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until each side begins to turn golden brown (if your pan dries out after cooking on the first side - add a little more oil, letting it get hot before putting the chicken back in on the other side.) When both sides are golden, remove and set aside.

Add the orange juice and chicken stock to the pan and raise the heat to medium high while you scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, mixing them into the liquid. Let come to a low boil and boil for about 7 minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue to let bubble and cook down, stirring every so often, for another 6 minutes or until the sauce has thickened (this sauce doesn't get fudge thick but you should be able to leave a wake in the pan when you drag a wooden spoon through.) Lower the heat to low and add the butter along with a small pinch of kosher salt, stirring the butter in well to incorporate (as well as any additional herbs if adding.) Return the chicken to the pan and let heat through while on low heat. Serve by scooping a big mound of cauliflower puree onto each plate then setting the cutlet on top and spooning additional orange balsamic sauce over and around the edges for the puree to soak up. Garnish with sesame seeds or sprig of fresh herbs, if using.

Ingredients for Cauliflower:
1 head of cauliflower, cut into 3/4 inch florets of roughly the same size
1 garlic clove, cut into thirds
splash low sod chicken stock (about 1/3 cup - just enough to provide a 1/4 inch pool of liquid for the florets)
1-2 cups rice milk, regular milk, or soy milk
Dash Truffle oil to finish, optional

Instructions for Cauliflower:
* You'll notice my instructions for how much milk to add aren't very specific, but with all purees their destiny is an unsure one and is affected by many things including the size of cauliflower you use, the humidity in your home at the time you make this, and God's will, so be flexible.

Place the florets in a small/medium lidded pot. Add the stock, just providing a shallow kiddie pool for them to sit in (the liquid will only touch the florets on the bottom and shouldn't come even half way up to the pile of florets.) Add in the garlic and a pinch of salt sprinkling over. Place the lid on and put the burner on low heat. Let come to a gentle simmer and steam away for 20-25 minutes or until the florets are easily pierced (test the stalks as they're the toughest part) with a fork. Check them about half way through to see if you need to add more stock.

Remove from the heat, add a half cup of milk as well as another hefty pinch of salt, and puree with a hand held immersion blender (or place in a food processor.) As you blend, you'll notice it eats up the liquid so add more slowly and in little amounts, as once you add too much there's no taking it out. Also, remember that you're going to use the puree to soak up additional sauce from the chicken, so err on the thicker versus thinner side. Taste for salt, making any adjustments necessary, and stir in a dash of truffle oil if you're feeling sexy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Slow Supper Sundays - Chicken Chili with White Beans, Jalapeno, and Rosemary

Have I ever told you how I feel about leftovers?

Hmm... How do I say this and maintain ladylike behavior. Oh forget it - I hate them. Despise them. Loathe them.

Microwaving their flacid remains the next day, their texture always disappoints. I don't even recognize some of my favorite recipes when I try to 'repeat' them. I just get angry, then sad, then embarrassed for my little plate of food, having lost its moment of glory.

There are a few exceptions, however. My pork enchiladas, in the previous post, that can be reheated in the oven or even microwaved (you'll lose the texture - but they're so damn good who cares), soup, and chili.

This chicken chili is my latest love. I am having an affair with it. It is so good, it's embarrassing. It makes me blush.

And as with most affairs, mine is accompanied by shame. Here's my confession - are you ready? I've never cooked with dried beans before. I found the whole idea of soaking them daunting and exhausting. I was lazy. I reached for the ease and familiarity of the can.

But I have to say - if you have the time - don't be the cowardice I was. Soaking is easy and they're nothing to be afraid of. If you're unsure of their doneness you can always test them for doneness just like pasta, then cook them longer if needed.

Alright - enough about beans. Actually one more note - this may sound odd, but you'll notice that in the recipe, I recommend having another 4 cups (1 box) of low sodium chicken stock on hand. This is for two reasons.

1) Depending on the brand of beans you buy/temperature of your burner/grace of God - your beans might absorb more stock than you would suspect while they cook and soften, drying up your stew like a sponge.
2) Everyone likes their chili a little different - some thicker, some thinner. So it never hurts to have more stock within reaching distance.

What surprises me about this recipe is how well rosemary works with oregano and cilantro. As I've advised, if you can get a hold of a store bought Rosemary chicken - do so and even though you remove the skin, let some of the prickly rosemary leaves stay with the meat. If you can only find a plain rotisserie chicken - don't panic - just up the ratio of addition fresh chopped rosemary to 1/2 teaspoon. The beauty of this recipe is that like all chilis, it gets better with time. You could make it earlier in the day and let it simmer away on low until you're ready to eat (adding stock as necessary if it dries out too much) or even make it a day ahead, refrigerate it and reheat. I'll shut up now. My lover's calling me.

Chicken Chili with White Beans, Jalapeno, and Rosemary
Serves 6.

1 pound dried navy beans, rinsed thoroughly under cold water
5 cups low sodium chicken stock, with an addition 4 cups (box) at the ready
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 heaping cups chopped red or sweet (Vidalia) onion
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
fresh cracked black pepper, plus additional for seasoning
2 jalapenos, seeded, ribs removed, and finely chopped (if you like it hotter, keep the seeds and feel free to add more)
3 fat (5-6 small) garlic cloves, minced - about 1 1/2 tablespoons
1/2 store bough Rosemary Rotisserie chicken, skin removed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 tablespoon dried oregano
1 small cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Sour cream, for serving

Place the well rinsed beans in a large dutch oven (I use my 5 qt Le Creuset - a worthy investment in my opinion) and cover with water, filling to the top. Place the cover over and set aside in a cool place in the kitchen for 4 hours.

At this point drain them and rinse again well in a colander (even rinse out the pot you soaked them.) Return the beans to the pot along with the 5 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat while you begin the rest.

Heat a separate, large rimmed nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add butter and olive oil, letting heat through for 30 seconds, then the chopped onions. Season with salt and a good grating of fresh black pepper (or 1/4 teaspoon dried if that's what you have) and saute, stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes until they begin to turn light pink and translucent.

Add the jalapenos and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every so often. Clear a space out in the pan for the cumin, and add it, letting it 'toast' for a couple of minutes before stirring into the rest. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick and an additional small pinch salt, and cook for another 5 minutes, just until the garlic softens and mellows (don't let the heat get too hot or it will burn - you just want a kiss of heat to mellow it out versus frying the crap out of it.)

At this point, the onions should be really well cooked and have lost a lot of volume in the pan with a couple of bits beginning to caramelize. If not, cook another few minutes until this occurs.

Add the onion mixture to the boiling beans and stock, along with the dried oregano and fresh rosemary. Stir in to incorporate and let boil another 10 minutes (if your stock has dried up - add more starting with a cup or two as you need to maintain a 'sea' for your ingredients to get to know each other in.) Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, then add the chicken and cilantro and lower the heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Check the beans for their tenderness and the chili for salt. If the beans are still too al dente - continue cooking for another half hour or until they're at the consistency you like. Adjust salt seasoning, if necessary and serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Creamy Onion and Fennel Sauce

Fall is here in the north east and trickling into other parts of the US in fits and starts. And with the first goosebumps scattering across our arms and legs from that first drop in temperature, we're all ditching our summer salads and heirloom tomatoes for heartier fare like roasts and stews.

I myself am no exception. When I saw this recipe in the October issue of Better Homes and Gardens, it immediately caught my eye as a sophisticated take on beef strogonaf. I changed it a little, hoping I could sneak fennel past my husband if I upped the onions in the recipe (it worked - ha ha ha!!) and served it over rice to soak up all that lovely, creamy sauce.

Speaking of cream sauce - this recipe is genius because the 'cream' is actually a harmless little quarter cup of sour cream. No heavy cream or mascarpone to send your skinny jeans to the back of the closet. (I love Ina Garten as much as the next foodie, but in my opinion heavy cream belongs in ice cream and baked goods that at least warn you from the outset you're headed for trouble.)

The smell that fills your kitchen as this cooks in the oven is heavenly. Sweet with a hint of licorice from the fennel rounded out with rosemary's signature breath of forest and pine needles. In short - fall has entered your home and demands that you put on your favorite sweatshirt and cozy up with a bowl of this lovely, comforting dinner.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Creamy Onion and Fennel Sauce
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens from reader Bridget M. Klusman - Kalamazoo, MI
Serves 4.

1 nice sized pork tenderloin (one that you can imagine getting 4 servings out of)
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced thin and a few fronds reserved for garnish
2 medium sweet (Vidalia or other) onions, sliced thin
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
small handful of fennel seeds (about 2 tablespoons) for coating pork
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra on hand
3 fat cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup low sodium chicken or beef broth
1/2 cup dry white wine (Chardonnay works well) or vermouth
1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 400 (if your oven runs hot - 375.)

Season the pork loin on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the fennel seeds to a pie plate or small rimmed baking sheet, then press the pork tenderloin into the seeds, continuing to roll over and press to encourage as many seeds to stick as possible. Set aside.

Heat an oven proof, large rimmed skillet or low dutch oven over medium heat adding 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom. Let heat through for 2 minutes, or until the oil sizzles when you toss a fennel seat into it, then add the pork loin to the skillet. Let it sear on the first side about 4 minutes or until golden brown, then carefully use your tongs to turn it to the other side and repeat. Continue doing so until all sides have a nice sear, then transfer to a holding plate or tray.

Temporarily take your skillet off the heat and use a spoon to carefully remove any fallen fennel seeds from the pan leaving in as much oil as possible (they'll burn if not - you don't want them.) Return the pan to the heat and add a little more oil if the bottom of the pan has any dry spots. Add the fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally for 8 minutes. Add the onions along with more salt (about a half a teaspoon of kosher - less if using table salt), and continue cooking for another 10 minutes until the onions have begun to get translucent and cook down. Add the garlic and rosemary, along with a teensy bit more salt, stirring in well and cook another 2 or so minutes.

Add the broth and wine, carefully stirring in well to incorporate, then add the sour cream and do the same. Once well mixed, bring to a boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add the pork loin back to the mixture, using your tongs to get it well and nestled in the center of the sauce.

Transfer the skillet, uncovered, to the oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, just until the pork is cooked through. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting, then cut into slices and serve over rice, spooning the onion mixture and sauce around it. Garnish with fennel fronds or rosemary sprigs.

TIP: If you are not using low sodium stock in this recipe, cut back on the salt you use for seasoning throughout.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crack Cocaine Enchiladas (Beer Braised Pork Enchiladas in Salsa Verde Crema)

A lot of dear, well meaning friends and family often say to me - "You should try out for the next Food Network Star!" While I sometimes have fantasies of being in the spot light, preaching my cooking philosophies to my eager, adoring fans looking like I've be shelacked by a MAC makeup artist, the truth is that's not in the cards for me.

Having worked on a reality show before, I know the formula too well to subject myself to the calculated pitfalls and shenanigans. (Now if someone wanted to GIVE me my own show that I could design and control myself...well, that's a horse of a different color.)

Anyway, in those brief moments of fantasy, I like to debate what my 'signature' recipe would be if asked. And after years of various possibilities floating through my brain, I finally have the answer: Crack Cocaine Enchiladas.

These darling, precious flour tortilla bundles were born a couple of Saturdays ago when company was coming over and rain thwarted my plans for grilling tequila chicken on the rooftop. You'll need to start them a day ahead, roasting the pork in either a crock pot or a dutch oven for several hours along with an onion and some other things, cooling the mixture, then shredding it mercilessly with two forks, separating every last nugget of meat into fine shreds. The point is to create a smooth, soft texture that will later be accented by crunchy cheese and tortilla, so no lumps please. (And don't be alarmed when the onion disappears, actually caramelizing to the point that it dissolves into the rich, spice-scented sauce the pork bathes in. Delicious!) After shredding, cool the mixture in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, skim off the white patches off of the top (this is fat and will make your mixture greasy/heavy in the oven - there shouldn't be more than a spoonful or two.) DO NOT skim or spoon off the brownish, gelatanous substance - this is your beloved onion, metamorphasized into something better and is the star of you sauce.

I admit - this recipe is a tricky one to share as it makes a boatload of enchiladas - I got 30 out of them, but this may fluctuate depending on how much cheese and/or chilis you decided to add to the pork filling. If you're making them for a large dinner you will need 3 large (14 1/2" x 11.75" lasagna pans) and you should be able to fit 10 in each.

I always hesitate to give adjustments as I am horrible at math, but if you don't want to feed an army or keep any for freezing, I'd be willing to bet you could easily substitute a smaller pork loin, say 4 lbs for the giant 6-pounder I used, while keeping the beer and onion ratios the same. The rest of the filling mixture, can be adjusted to your own tastes. You might not like any cheese in the filling at all or even more than I added. I just like a little bit as to not drown out the subtle, caramely flavors of the braised pork. In short - think of this recipe as more of a roadmap versus hard science (after all - I failed science, remember?)

However, I would reccommend making the full amount if time and money allows, assembling them but not adding the hard cheese over the top, covering thoroughly in plastic wrap, then aluminum and freezing an extra tray or two. You'll have dinner in 45 minutes when company surprises you or on a night when you need a big batch of comfort food.

Do not skip out on the nutmeg for the filling mixture - I think this might be what puts these over the edge from gold star to legendary.

Crack Cocaine Enchiladas (Beer Braised Pork Enchiladas in Salsa Verde Crema)

* Makes 30 enchiladas - but you can adjust to your own serving desires.
* The beauty of using flour tortillas versus corn is that you don't have to do the messy step of softening them in oil first. Room temp flour tortillas are already pliable and easy going.
* Special tools: a crock pot or large dutch oven.
* I like to make the pork and shred it the day before, then add the rest of the filling ingredients the next morning, assemble the enchiladas, and let them sit in the fridge until I'm ready to bake them off for company.

1 (6 lb) pork loin
1 bottle of Sierra Nevada Kelerweis, or other flavorful beer
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
black pepper
1 Vidalia or Spanish onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced

Additions to pork filling:
* Again - you can adjust this according to how much cheese and/or green chilis you like.
3-4 cups shredded monteray jack cheese
3 (4 oz) cans of diced green chilis
1 1/2 tablespoon KOSHER salt
good grating fresh nutmeg

For the Crema, mix together:
• 1 lb (16 oz) Sour Cream (do not use low fat - it will become too watery when it bakes and make your enchiladas soggy.)
• 1 lb (16 oz best quality, store bought salsa verde (I used Frontera brand, by Rick Bayless - medium Tomatillo)
• 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
* This makes enough sauce for each large (roughly 14.5"x11.75") pan holding 10 enchiladas a piece, so you'll need to triple it if you're making all 30 enchiladas at once.

30 (6 inch) flour tortillas
2 1/2 cups Cotija, Queso Fresco, or Ricotta Salata cheese for topping
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

Start the pork the day before by seasoning a six pound pork loin with cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and placing it in a crock pot with the sliced onion, bay leaf, beer and garlic. Give a good stir with a wooden spoon to see that all the ingredients are well-dispersed, place the crock pot on high and cook for 4 hours, then on low for 1 hour or to the point that the meat is easily pulled apart with two forks.)

Let cool for 30 to 45 minutes, then shred thoroughly using two forks and refrigerate until ready to assemble, preferably the morning of your dinner party. After you remove it from the fridge, you'll need to skim off the solidified, white fat that has gathered around the edges of the pork and disgard. Again - the clearish brown jelly is NOT fat and is actually the caramelized onion, broken all the way down into a lovely sauce by the slow cooking process. This is liquid gold - don't be alarmed by its ugliness. Mix the pork filling with green chilis, cheese, salt a good grating of nutmeg, and set aside.

Meanwhile, spray each of your baking trays with pam, then spread a thin layer of the sour cream mixture - about 1/4 inch thick - on the bottom of each of your baking trays.

You can now begin to assemble your enchiladas . I like to use about a half cup of filling per tortilla - getting them nice and full from end to end but not so full that you can't shut them by folding them over length wise. Lay each one seem-side down and tightly side by side in the pan. Once all assembled, drizzle the rest of the sour cream mixture over the tops (I like a drizzle versus drowning them - but this is individual) then season lightly with salt and pepper

At this point you can sprinkle over the hard cheese and bake off or cover each tray with plastic wrap and put them back in the fridge until guests arrived. (I also like to sprinkle LIGHTLY with salt before baking, but I'm an addict.)

Bake them at 375 for 30-35 minutes just until the tops begin to brown, while drinking a frosty Corona. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro before serving.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Ceiling's Raining Chicken (Pan Seared Chicken with Mushrooms, Shallots, and Dijon)

A little over two years ago, my husband and I moved from corporate housing into our new NYC townhouse. We were ecstatic. The townhouse was located in the West Village on a quaint, tree lined street. The building we moved into was even featured on the historic walking tour (it's rumored to be the building John Wilkes Boothe conspired to kill Lincoln in, was used as in the film 'Reds' as Jack Nicholsen's character's home and was also real life home to poet Hart Crane.)

The apartment fulfilled my New York fantasy to a T, looking similar to the one in Rosemary's Baby (my favorite movie) with 18' ceilings, classic details throughout, and an imported Venetian chandelier that was so gaudy you couldn't NOT fall in love with it.

The love affair was short lived. We hadn't been in the apartment two weeks when things started going awry. The hot water mysteriously vanished each morning, just as we were showering for work. And with those high ceilings and only a window unit to cool things down in a New York August, it was HOT. For someone who loves to cook, this wasn't only inconvenient but devastating. I began to actually fear my oven, as turning it on meant raising the temp another 20 degrees inside.

But we were still new to NY and blindly in love so we dealt with it. The water went out altogether one day and our landlord, who I began to despise and bizarrely love at the same time (he called us back which is unusual for landlords in this city) would come over, scratch his head and say 'Welcome to New York' as if each hardship we were endured was a fraternity pledge week ritual and something we would look back upon later as necessary stepping stones to becoming a true New Yorker.

The Friday before Labor Day weekend, we came home to a particularly nasty stepping stone. The ceiling in the kitchen was leaking. And I don't mean 'drip-drip-drip' kind of leaking - I mean a steady stream of horse pee coming down through a bubble in the ceiling with another bubble welling up just a couple of feet down. The kind of leaking that if uninterrupted, could result in the entire ceiling coming down on top of our heads.

I sprinted out the apartment door and up the hallway stairs to our neighbors who incredibly, were home (holiday weekends in New York are a mystery in and of themselves - all the residents literally do a disappearing act and become replaced by camera wielding tourists.) The problem was - it wasn't coming from them - but instead from the 3rd or 4th floor whose tenants were out of town.

So began the panic stricken call to our beloved/hated landlord.

"It's fine," he said. "This sort of thing happens all the time. We'll get it looked at on Tuesday."

Fine???? We tried to explain - in as slow and rational English as possible that it wasn't only not fine - but that the damage about to happen would run him thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

"Picture this," I said, trying to speak calmly though tears were shooting from my eyeballs in spurts as if from a cheap, miniature water gun inside of them. "Your ceiling is about to come down. That means that the apartment it's coming from somewhere above us could be flooded. And eventually that water will make its way down - floor by floor, rendering all of the renovation you've done on the building nill. You could be out of tenants by Monday."

That got his attention and soon enough a handyman who mysteriously had keys to the building appeared along with a plumber (this I can assure you - on a Friday night before Labor Day - is as rare as reuniting with your first armpit hair. It just doesn't happen.)

Eventually the water went from a steady stream to a drip-drip-drip indicating they had found the source above and stopped it. And everything was fine. We were living in an apartment - the rent of which I am too ashamed to admit to most sober, rational people - that had been more of a pain in the ass in the first two weeks than sextuplets with a bad case of diaper rash. Because of the rainy ceiling, we had to set so many buckets out to catch the mold/asbestos/lead water that you couldn't walk through the kitchen without playing a mean game of Twister.

As I looked around the kitchen , observing what just hours before had been freshly painted walls, now wet and sodden flanking the nearly caved-in ceiling overhead, all of the panic/fear/anxiety suddenly left me. I still don't recall this, but apparently I went to the cabinet to retrieve pots and pans, then to the fridge.

"You're cooking?" my husband asked, rightfully fearful of this sudden, ill-timed zen-ness.

The following recipe is what came out. As I chopped the shallots and watched them become pink and then translucent in the pan, I began to breathe again. Everything was going to be alright.

I was a New Yorker. I couldn't control the hot water, the ceiling caving in, or the homeless person who occasionally pooped in our entryway. But by God - I could control my own dinner. So I did.

Pan Seared Chicken with Mushrooms, Shallots, and Dijon
Serves 3.

1 tablespoon olive oil (enough to coat your skillet with a thin layer)
3 boneless skinless chicken breast, seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper and dredged lightly in 1/3 flour
Additional olive oil - about a teaspoon
1 heaping cup thinly sliced shallots
white pepper and salt, for seasoning
5 oz package sliced Shitake mushrooms
1 cup dry white wine or Champagne
1/2 teaspoon whole grain dijon mustard
1 tablespoon butter

Heat the olive oil in a large, rimmed nonstick skillet (with a lid) over medium heat for at least one minute, until glistening and 'hisses' when you add your chicken. Add the chicken, cooking about 3-4 minutes or until golden brown, then flipped and cooked another 3-4 minutes or golden brown on the other side.

Remove the chicken to a waiting plate. Add the additional olive oil to the pan, then the shallots seasoning with salt and white pepper. This next step is important - reduce the heat a little as you DO NOT want to cook the shallots too quickly or they won't soften and release their starches. Saute them slowly - about 8 minutes until they begin to soften and become translucent. Add the mushrooms, seasoning with a little more salt. Place the lid on the pan and cook over low-medium heat for 4 minutes, until the mushrooms release some of their liquid and wilt/brown.

Remove the lid and add the white wine or Champagne, raising the heat back to medium/high to bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits from the bottom. Let the liquid cook down, stirring occasionally for about 6-8 minutes until the majority of the wine has evaporated. Add the mustard and butter, lowering the heat to low and stirring well to incorporate. Return the chicken to the mixture to reheat for 2 minutes.

Serve warm.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pork Chops with Oozy Gorgonzola, Honey and Toasted Pecans

I was lucky enough to get amazing seats last night for the Jay Z 9-11 Memorial Benefit at Madison Square Garden. The special guests started with Alicia Keys then spread to John Mayer, Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye, Mary J Blige, and P Diddy among others.

Jay's tribute to the lives lost on 9-11 as well as to the city of New York was stunning. Photos of the departed scrolled behind him for a good part of the show and there was an amazing graphic treatment of the city skyline at night to kick off the show. I particularly loved that he plugged his Texas lady's hometown (and mine) twice with a shout out to H-town. Such an amazing show - I still have goosebumps.

Anyway this post is supposed to be about pork chops, right? Right.

This recipe has everything going for it - savory yet sweet with the wonderful texture of toasted pecans. If it was a person you would hate it.

You'll want a good quality gorgonzola here - preferably one that you can smell/taste first before buying as there are so few ingredients in this recipe and you don't want any of them to drag the whole dish down with them. You could also substitute brie if you're not a gorgonzola fan, or any cheese that you like a good hit of mellow sweetness to contrast against.

What's your favorite sweet/savory recipe?

Pork Chops with Oozy Gorgonzola, Honey and Toasted Pecans

2 thick cut pork chops, seasoned well on both sides with salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 thick slices Gorgonzola, to place over the chops (cut 'em THICK - no one's looking;)
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons chopped pecans, lightly toasted in a 350 oven for 6 minutes

Preheat the oven to 350. Place aluminum foil over a small baking sheet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Let the oil heat through for 1 minute, until a beautiful sheen develops and it willingly crawls across the pan. Add the chops (dip one edge in first - if you don't get a 'hissing' sound, wait until the pan heats up more and/or raise the heat.) Cook the chops for about 4 minutes, until a golden crust develops. Flip to the other side and cook another 3-4 minutes, just until golden as well.

Remove to your waiting sheet pan and top with the Gorgonzola slices. Place in the oven for 6-8 minutes, until the chops are just cooked through and the gorgonzola has melted nicely, oozing over the edges.

Remove from the oven, drizzle with honey in an evenly zig-zagged strip over the top, and sprinkle with the pecan bits.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Skillet Corn with Chopped Jalapeno and Peaches

This side dish is quick and versatile. You can use frozen corn in the winter months (about a heaping cup) or even add or swap out fresh green beans that have been trimmed and steamed in a plastic covered, heat proof bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes, then sauteed along with the jalapeno. I sometimes sub a large vine-ripened tomato for the peach, cut into chunks and de-seeded as not to make the mixture to watery.

Skillet Corn with Chopped Jalapeno and Peaches
Serves 3-4.

1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 fresh ears of corn, shucked
1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed and diced
1 fresh peach, pit removed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (you can sub a half a cup of frozen peach quarters - you'll just need to saute them for a bit longer)
salt and pepper
teaspoon of butter to finish, optional

Add the olive oil to a large saute pan, bring to medium heat letting the oil heat through for 30 seconds. Add the corn and chopped jalapeno and season with salt and pepper. Saute stirring every so often, for about 8 minutes until the corn is cooked through and JUST beginning to become golden around the edges. Add the diced peaches and butter if adding, along with a teensy bit more salt. Cook for another 2 minutes, just until the peaches are nice and warm.

Serve immediately.

Pasta with Pancetta, Sauteed Zuchinni, and Tomatoes

I know. I'm feeding you pasta twice in one week. But that's how the cookie crumbled so you will eat your pasta and like it! Actually, that might not be true. If you don't like zuchinni - you obviously won't like this pasta. But when I went to the stables last weekend, the farm stand next door was warning me it was the last time to get summer's organic wonders - namely corn and peaches - but it was zuchinni that caught my eye.

I was tempted to create a cream sauce for the pasta, but it's fashion week here in New York and the explosion of lanky 17 year old Brazilian models curbed that aspiration. So here's what I made instead. Apologies for the roughage dominating the picture - I like a lot of fresh herbs on this and didn't realize it would photograph like a home lawn (though I'll tell you - between the zuchinni and fresh basil - who needs a salad?)

TIP: Pancetta is best purchased in whole 'chunks' versus pre-diced. (If you're short on time - ignore what I just said.) So when you find it, buy it, cut off and dice what you need, and keep the rest in the freezer. Pancetta, like bacon, is actually easier to cut when frozen and docile, versus room temp and resistant.

Pasta with Pancetta, Sauteed Zuchinni, and Tomatoes
Serves 3.

1/2 pound of short tube pasta, little ears, or bow ties
heaping 1/2 cup of diced pancetta
2 medium zuchinni, ends removed and diced
pinch of salt
good crack of black pepper
1 (14 oz) can diced or whole tomatoes, drained and lightly broken up, if whole
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil

handful of fresh, torn basil leaves (can also sub oregano)

Get a large pot of water started boiling over high heat. Once it's boiling, add a handful of kosher salt and let come back to a boil. (If you are still cooking your pancetta - let the water wait at a boil. If not - go ahead and add the pasta.) Cook for 8 minutes or per directions until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large rimmed skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil letting heat through 1 minute, then add the diced pancetta. Cook, stirring every so often for about 8 minutes, until the fat has rendered (shrunken and the remains have become glassy and golden) and cooked through. Don't let it get too dark brown or it will be like pork rinds in the pasta versus delightful meaty nuggets. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider to a holding plate. Drain off any excess fat from the pan, leaving just a thin layer. Add a splash of fresh extra virgin olive oil to the pan, return to medium heat, and add the zuchinni along with a good pinch of kosher or sea salt and black pepper. Cook stirring every few minutes until nice and sauteed, beginning to turn golden on the edges - about 12 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the drained pasta to the zuchinni/tomato mixture along with the cheese and final teaspoon of olive oil, gently stirring to incorporate altogether. Add a final bit of black pepper, if desired along, with freshly torn basil leaves. Serve with extra parmesan grated over each bowlful.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheddar Caprese Pizza

Wow. This recipe kind of falls into the 'too easy to write down' category, but if you want to make it more challenging - make your own damned dough!

Cheddar Caprese Pizza
Serves two gluttonous or very hungry people.
* Special tool required: a pizza peel, or as I call it a pizza 'flipper'

1 store bought, pre or parbaked pizza dough, about 12"x12"
2 ripe on the vine tomatoes, cut into slivers, deseeded and juiced by gently running your thumb against the interior, then diced
pinch of kosher or sea salt
cracked pepper
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese, preferably Grafton or highest quality available
pinch fresh cracked pepper
big handful of fresh basil leaves
Olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 400 on convection setting, or 425.

Have two small/medium (cereal bowls) ready. In one, place the diced tomatoes and stir in salt and pepper. Set aside. In the other bowl, mix the ricotta and cheddar cheese with a fork, stir in the salt and additional good crack of pepper and set aside.

Once your oven has preheated, use your pizza peel to carefully slide the dough directly onto the oven rack. Heat through for 5 minutes, JUST until the edges and/or top are becoming golden. Remove (carefully with the peel) setting onto a counter lined with Pam sprayed aluminum foil. Quickly spread the ricotta/cheddar mixture over the center, leaving a 2 inch border clean around the edges (sadly I've found the best way to do this is with my fingers - though a more ladylike way would be with two forks to drop and spread across the hot dough.) Sprinkle the chopped tomatoes over (discarding collected juice in the bottom of the bowl.) Drizzle lightly with olive oil in a zig zag over the top and return to the oven for 8-12 minutes, until the cheese around the edges has begun to bubble and brown. Remove, top with hand torn basil leaves and let rest a couple of minutes before slicing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Coffee Oreo Ice Cream Pie

This is too easy to have a recipe for, but I find that when things are too easy to be written down, I forget about them altogether. And with this pie, that would be a crying shame. It just so happens the night I made this pie for company, my dear friend Miranda brought me an incredible piece of chocolate complete with 'chunking tool' from the West Village chocolate shop, Pure Dark. Bless you Miranda - you always have the best timing!

Coffee Oreo Ice Cream Pie

1 prepackaged chocolate graham cracker pie crust
1 pint coffee ice cream (I highly recommend Haagen Dazs' Five brand, which is actually 14 oz)
1/4 cup chocolate ice cream (Haagen Dazs' Five Milk Chocolate, preferably)
12 Oreo cookies, put in a ziploc and lightly bashed into pieces

1/2 cup heavy cream, cold and straight from the refrigerator
2 tablespoons sugar or powdered sugar
splash of vanilla extract
a dark or semi sweet chocolate bar, for shaving over the top
1 chunk of dark chocolate, for shaving over the top

Let the ice cream sit out for at least 15 minutes, until it's soft and pliable - even partially melted and liquidy is best. In a large bowl, stir the two ice cream flavors together (it's a free country - obviously you can choose any flavors you like) then stir in the Oreo pieces, making sure they're evenly distributed. Gently dump the ice cream mixture into your graham cracker crust, and cover lightly with a Pam sprayed plastic wrap.

Freeze for 30 minutes, then cover with an additional piece of aluminum foil, carefully crimping the edges to prevent freezer burn. Return to the freezer.

Ten minutes before you want to serve the pie, remove it from the freezer and set on the counter while you whip the cream. Add the chilled cream to a Kitchen aid mixer or a bowl if using a hand mixer, and whip on medium high for 2 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla, increasing speed to high and whipping until stiff peaks form. Remove the plastic and foil from the pie, and gently top with whipped cream. Sprinkle with freshly shaved chocolate and serve.

Cheater's Side Dish - Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bread Crumbs

Kris asked me the other day how restaurants manage to get all of their dishes out at the same time. I told him I had no idea, but remembered from my short stint as an (atrocious) waitress in high school, that many things were cooked partially ahead of time so that they could be finished off while another dish was cooking.

While perfect timing is crucial for a restaurant, the thought of it can also send the home cook reaching for the Ambien. In fact, when I first started cooking, I distinctly remember NOTHING ever being ready at the same time, which is why I usually avoided it altogether.

But have no fear - you're a smarter cook than I was. After all, you're on this blog reading about food and cooking while I was going at it like a rogue sailor, all alone with my ignorance. Here are a few tricks to arm you:

TIP 1. Meat means built in 'last minute' time. Anytime you are roasting or grilling meat as your main course, remember it generally needs ten minutes to 'rest' so that the juices can redistribute throughout. So wether it's a roast chicken, steak, or pork roast, remove it from the source of heat and cover loosely with aluminum foil while you wrap up whatever you're doing. This can be a real help if you've forgotten to make the salad dressing, set the table, what have you.

TIP 2. Have at least ONE un-fussy side dish that requires no babysitting on the menu (rice that can be baked in the oven untouched or roasted vegetables), can be made ahead (a salad assembled in a big bowl and chilled, then dressed right before you sit down), or that can sit quietly after its made (grits and polenta are very patient and can be reheated gently on the stove with just a splash of chicken stock to loosen them, while mashed potatoes often get gummy/tough as they sit.)

TIP 3. If you're making something fussy and codependent, like risotto - make it your main dish. Anyone who's made risotto WHILE trying to grill steaks or sear tuna perfectly knows what I'm talking about - it's very difficult to tend to both at the same time. Risotto requires constant stirring and sporadic addition of piping hot stock for up to 45 minutes. It's a time sucker - delicious, but demanding. So make it your main course and serve it with something you can whip up quickly once it's done, like a salad.

TIP 4. Build of a repertoire of recipes that can be eaten at room temperature so that you can use at least one in a menu that's rounded out with dishes served hot. Examples are roasted beets, quinoa or cracked wheat salad, or a salad of roasted butternut squash, basil leaves, and goat cheese dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Alright, enough babbling. Here's my new favorite way to eat green beans, using good old prewashed green beans that you 'steam' in the microwave first. I call it a cheater's side dish because you can saute the shallots first, then take them off the heat and let them sit until you're ready to finish the dish - in just five minutes' time.

Sauteed Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots and Bread Crumbs
Serves 4.

2 healthy sized shallots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 package prewashed, precleaned green beans - the kind you steam in the bag, found in the chilled fresh veg section of grocery store
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
additional pinch of salt and pepper

Add the oil to a large, rimmed, nonstick skillet and raise the heat to medium. Add the sliced shallots and salt and pepper, stirring to spread throughout the pan. Let cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat if they brown too quickly. Once they've become translucent and actually begun to shrink a little, you can take them off the heat and set aside until you're ready to finish the dish.

Five minutes before you're ready to eat, retrieve your bag of green beans from the fridge and use a fork to puncture holes in a couple of places. Put in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, get your shallots back on the stove over medium heat. Carefully (using a towel) remove your green beans from the microwave, open the bag and add to the shallots in the pan. Season with a good pinch salt and pepper, then add the butter, breaking into bits with your fingers as you add it to the pan. Immediately add the breadcrumbs and stir to incorporate. Let cook for another 2 minutes on medium - until the shallots have really withered down and the green beans are just beginning to brown on one side (should remain bright green though in general - once they lose their signature shade - you've cooked them too long. Nothing to lose your pants over - but ideally you want them crisp and bright green.)

Serve immediately.

* These are particularly good with the Thyme Coated Chicken, posted here:

Thyme Coated Chicken with Balsamic Reduction

This chicken is another riff of an Andrea Immer Robinson recipe. She constantly preaches the wine-friendliness of dried thyme, to the point where I worry about the state of her darling mind. But like any good parishioner, I finally broke down and bought a bottle.

I was afraid that using dried thyme to coat protein would be too earthy, like biting into a hay bale, but I was wrong. The flavors were delicate and mellow, actually accentuating the juiciness of the chicken rather than taking center stage. And the balsamic reduction that goes with it? I could bathe in the stuff. The addition of chocolate is optional - if you only have milk or semi sweet on hand instead of dark, omit the honey and taste first. It might be sweet enough without it.

BTW - this is LOVELY with Pinot Noir, for my wino readers out there.

TIP 1: Buy chicken breast cutlets versus breasts so you don't have to pound them yourself or ask your butcher to pound them into scallopini for you.

TIP 2: Get your oil in the pan hot before searing your chicken, letting it heat through for at least a minute before adding the meat. You can test it buy dipping just the edge of a chicken cutlet into the oil. If it sits there lackadaisically in silence, keep waiting. Otherwise you'll get heavy, lifeless chicken versus juicy seared pieces.

Thyme Coated Chicken with Balsamic Reduction
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets, or 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise in half and pounded into 1/2 thickness giving you 4 pieces
Lots of dried thyme - about 2 heaping tablespoons or more, for coating
salt and pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons red wine
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 tablespoon butter (small pat)
1 lady's thumb-sized piece of dark chocolate (I use Green and Black's 70% Dark Chocolate)
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees - or 'warmer' setting.

Season both sides of your chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, then pour the dried thyme over them, turning to coat and making sure every inch is covered with the green flecks (you may need more than 2 tablespoons.) Don't worry - the chicken can only hold so much so you won't 'over do it' - but you want a good coating.

Add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large, rimmed skillet and bring to medium heat, letting the oil heat through for at least one minute (see tip above.) Once the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts carefully spreading out evenly in the pan, then don't touch them for 3 minutes. (If your oil is really spitting like mad after they've all been added, reduce your heat slightly.) After 3 minutes, lift up one of the edges of the chicken, checking to see if you've got a nice, golden crust yet. If so, carefully flip. If not, wait another minute, then check again. Once on the second side - they should only need another 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.

Transfer the chicken to a heat proof dish and put in a low oven to keep warm (about 200 degrees.) If you're worried your oven is too hot - keep the door open - you don't want to dry the chicken out.

Meanwhile, drain any extra oil from your pan and discard, leaving just a thin layer behind. Return to medium heat, then add the balsamic vinegar, stirring briefly to scrape up any browned bits off the bottom, then letting it bubble and hiss away like witches' brew for a couple of minutes until it reduces and thickens (a good trick is to see if your wooden spoon leaves a wake behind when you drag it through. If it does - it's thickened.) Carefully add your red wine (the proper police say to take it off the heat briefly to do so.) Stir quickly, then let bubble and reduce down some more - about 2 minutes - or until what you're staring at in the pan is no doubt, SAUCE looking. Reduce heat to low and stir in your honey and butter and chocolate if adding. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, tasting before adding more. Don't ask me why but this sauce seems to mellow and taste even better if allowed to sit for a few minutes contemplating life - which is fine, given that you can leave the chicken in the LOW oven during this time. Not a necessary step, but a good one.

Remove chicken from the oven, plate, and drizzle the reduction over and around.