Friday, October 29, 2010

A romantic (hopefully) housewarming dinner for two

What pressure!!!!! I have been tasked by my sister to craft a menu that will repair a week of petty arguments and sniping that inevitably occurs whenever couples, no matter how blissfully in love they are, attempt things like moving. Other activities that also fall into this category include: putting together furniture (unfortunately, this one often occurs with, and thus exacerbates, the moving situ), driving through unfamiliar territory on vacation, having mixed family get togethers, and clothes shopping (really shoe shopping is the ultimate test, but it's all strenuous). All kidding aside, we all know how stressful and PIMA-like moving can be, so I have decided to go with a nice comforting meal so that everyone can relax and finally be able to enjoy each others' company again.

The menu will play out as such:

Hors D'Oeuvres
Smoked Salmon and Avocado "mousse" on cucumber rounds with chilies and mint, paired with a nice, crisp sauvignon blanc

Buttermilk Soaked Pan Fried Chicken, with Twice Baked Gruyere Potatoes, and Spicy Creamed Spinach

Drunken Fruit Salad with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Without further ado, the recipes:

Smoked Salmon mouse:
2 oz smoked salmon
1 avocado, pitted and mashed
1/2 lb cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 tblsp mint, chopped
1 thai chile, diced fine (optional, I know Migs doesn't love the HEAT)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
S+P to taste

1)Dice salmon into small even pieces, set aside
2)Fold together all the other ingredients, and season to taste, and return to fridge, covered to chill for 20 minutes
3)Place one quennelle (this is a fancy french word for pretty looking dollop) of avocado "mousse" on top of each cucumber round, and sprinkle top with smoked salmon. I like to garnish with a little extra black pepper.

Pan Fried Chicken
2 lg Chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 tblsp hot sauce
2 eggs
1 tblsp black pepper
1 tblsp cayenne pepper
1 tblsp salt (kosher or sea only, iodized salt is the devil)
1 tblsp Herbes De Provence
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (Snobbily, I would suggest making your own...cheaper and better)
1 cup plus 1 tblsp flour
Oil of your choosing, just not olive, it's smoke point is too low, i like peanut

1)Marinate chicken in milk and hot sauce for at least one hour.
2)Combine all dry ingredients together in wide bowl, except the extra tblsp flour
3)Remove chicken from buttermilk, and whisk in two eggs
4)Return chicken to milk mixture, and wet thoroughly
5)Dip chicken into breadcrumb mixture, and coat thoroughly
6)Return chicken to milk mixture
7)Return chicken to breadcrumb mixture and again coat thoroughly
8)Sprinkle extra flour on plate and put your breaded chicken on it and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
9)Heat oven to 450
10)Heat pan with oil about 1/4 inch deep over medium-high heat (on a 1 to 10 burner, we're talking about a 6.5)
11)Saute Chicken on both sides about 2 minutes or until golden brown
12)Place saute pan in oven and cook 6-8 minutes more depending on thickness of breast.

****A breading tip : have a "dry hand" and a "wet hand". In other words, handle the chicken in the liquid with your left hand and in the breadcrumbs with your right hand, otherwise you will very effectively bread both of your hands and make a huge mess.

Twice Baked Potatoes
2 large potatoes
1 lg egg, beaten
1/2 cup Gruyere, grated
1 tblsp Parmesan, grated
1 tblsp chive, or scallion, chopped fine
2 tblsp heavy cream
1 tsp red chili flake
1 tblsp butter, melted
3 cloves roasted garlic, if you don't have any roasted garlic, 1 clove fresh, diced fine will do
S+P to taste

1)Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2)Bake potatoes in oven, plain, for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Don't pierce the potatoes beforehand
3)While still piping hot (I wear glove at this point, it makes things easier), slice potatoes in half lengthwise, and scoop out as much of the insides as you can without tearing the skin. It's okay to have a little interior left, it gives it a little structure.
4)Mash potatoes thoroughly, NO LUMPS, and mix in all ingredients except Parmesan, you are looking for basically a nice smooth mashed potato texture, not too runny, not too stiff
5)Refill the potato skins with your potato mixture, top with Parmesan, and return to oven for 25-30 minutes

Spicy Sauteed Spinach
1 lb spinach
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tblsp Thai chili paste (srirachi is the best)
1 shallot, diced fine
1 clove garlic, diced fine
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tblsp butter
S+P to taste

1)Melt butter over high heat, add onions and garlic before butter browns
2)Saute one minute, the add spinach, vinegar, heavy cream and seasoning
3)Let cream reduce, while stirring constantly, to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (this is called nappe in cooking terminology just in case you read it in a cookbook anywhere)
4)Stir in your chili paste and enjoy

There really isn't a need for a sauce for this meal, as the cream from your spinach should serve as one, and go really well with everything else on the plate

Drunken Fruit Salad
4 oz Strawberries, halved
4 oz blueberries
4 oz raspberries
4 oz blackberries
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tblsp plus 3/4 tblsp sugar
1/8 cup brandy, or rum
1 tblsp honey

1)Chill a metal bowl in the fridge.
2)Split vanilla bean down the middle, and scrape with a pairing knife to get all o the goodness out of there.
3)Mix vanilla, COLD heavy cream, and 3/4 tblsp of sugar in the cold bowl, and whisk using the biggest whisk you have until firm peaks form. Refrigerate until ready to use. **the bigger the whisk, and the bigger/colder the bowl is will make this easier
4)Mix all of the fruit with the remaining sugar, and the booze. Use a plastic spatula to gently toss the fruit without damaging it. Refrigerate for one hour at least

To serve:Spoon a generous portion of berries with just a little of the "juice" into a bowl and top with a generous portion of the whipped cream, ideally served with some champers, or a kir if you are so inclined as a nice end to a nice, if filling night.

Hope this helps create a blissful, romantic night at the new house Noush and Migs. Let me know how it goes (the food that is).

And Miguel, don't forget the old but true saying:

"The four most important words in any marriage....I'll do the dishes"

Sisterspeak: Housewarming Menu à Deux

So, I've just moved into a new house (yet again), bringing my total to 5 moves in five years. I'd love to say this is down to my jet-set, high-powered lifestyle, but really I've just been making my slow way up from south Wicklow to south Dublin with various year-long stops on the way -- Arklow, Greystones, Booterstown, Blackrock. (Safe to say that I have a kind of love-em-and-leave-em relationship with rental properties. In stark contrast to my propensity for serial monogamy when it comes to people.)

With this latest move, I promised my significant other we would stay for minimum two years, barring any major life changes that would require otherwise. Given the new nest came unfurnished (I can put my stamp on it!) and has a working heating system -- both major improvements over former rental forays -- I think his cautious optimism is well-founded.

That said, I've not really been a Fun-Person-To-Spend-Time-With over the last two weeks of stressful packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, re-packing etc. In fact, I think the only time he's seen a smile since mid-October was during a brief sojourn to IKEA, where I confess I morphed into a 4-year-old on a serious sugar high let loose in the playground. What can I say? Inexpensive home decor just does it for me.

So let me make it up to him! I'm in search of a Housewarming "I'm going to be nice to you again from now on" Menu for Two, which I plan to cook at some point this weekend, assuming I can find the necessary pots and pans. I have a dessert idea, but need appetizer/main inspiration. Nick, can you help?

In the meantime, I leave you with this article about another of my former residences. Apparently the most recent occupants of my freshman college dorm room (Harbin #926 circa 1996, holla!) have been using it as a center for cooking of an entirely nefarious sort:

Kids today! Tut, tut...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cheap Eats - Omelettes like a pro

Ok, we're back to eating good on a budget. One of my favorite "cheap dinners" is an omelette. There is a saying among chefs that cooking eggs is a good test of the skill of a chef. This is because there really isn't much hiding a mistake when cooking an egg. It is a simple process, but if you don't know the technique, or make a mistake, it is going to be very obvious. I love eggs, cook them all the time, and (modestly) am pretty damn good at it. The other nice thing about an omelette is that there are endless combos of ingredients to stuff them with, so it never gets boring. Also, you can usually find a tasty combination of things in your fridge/pantry, so they're even more convenient/inexpensive that way too.

Now, I'm going to do a little photo series on the process of omelette cooking, then explain the steps:

Ok, the first picture is there because I have been admonished for putting unflattering pictures of others, namely my sister and my wife, on the blog without their permission and I figured the only way to make that acceptable was to put up an unflattering picture of myself.....This definitely qualifies. Is it just television cameras that add 10 lbs, or is it point and shoot digitals as well?

The second picture is an example of the ingredients for a two egg omelette. 2 tblsp chopped tomatoes, 2 tblsp scallions, 2 tblsp diced ham, 1 tblsp jalapenos.

The third picture is the proper technique for cooking a perfect omelette. You saute your stuffing ingredients lightly, pour in your eggs, and then pull the cooked egg in towards the center of the pan while tilting the pan so that the liquid egg flows to the outside, and becomes cooked. Doing it this way gives you a evenly cooked omelette, and allows you to have a nice, soft, tender end result.

Finally, a basic recipe

2 eggs
2 tblsp milk
1 tsp hot sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

For any filling you decide on, about 2 tblsp per ingredient, and no more than four ingredients is the right ratio, and always use a plastic/rubber spatula. It's just easier to be gentle with these than it is metal. The exception to my 2 tblsp rule of thumb would be something like spinach. For spinach, you would saute it first, strain it, chop it, and then use the 2 tblsp amount.

1)Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, and seasoning till pale yellow and frothy
2)Melt 1/2 tblsp butter in saute pan over MEDIUM heat, and saute your filling ingredients for 1 minute. If you use a really hot pan, you will end up with a burnt, crispy, untender omelette, or in other words, a failure.
3)Pour egg mixture over filling and use the technique I described in pic #3
4)If using cheese, add 2 tblsp grated cheese just as the egg is finishing cooking before pulling it from the pan.
5)To remove from the pan, pull it to one edge of the saucepan, pull half of the omelette off onto plate, then use the pan to fold the other half over the top.
Your end result should look like this, or thereabout.

Some of my favorite fillings are
1)Ham, Jalapeno, Smoked Cheddar
2)Bacon, Tomato, Green Onion
3)Artichoke, Feta, Red Onion
4)Grilled Chicken, Spinach, Roasted Peppers, Parmesan
5)Squash, Tomato, Red Onion, and Mozzarella (Fresh)

These are just some options, but like I always say, go with your mood, what's in your pantry, or what looks best at the market, and you'll probably be doing ok. For omelettes, simpler is usually better.

As for wines, simple, crisp whites are best. Try Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Good clean, crisp, straight-forward wine.

I leave you with a few egg quotes to enjoy:

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.”
- anonymous

“This recipe is certainly silly. It says to separate the eggs, but it doesn’t say how far to separate them.”

- Gracie Allen

“You CAN make an omelette without breaking eggs. It’s just a really bad omelette.”
- Steven Colbert

“A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.”
- Bernard Meltzer

"The way to become rich is to put all your eggs in one basket, and then WATCH THAT BASKET"

-Andrew Carnegie

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Conquering the coq (au vin), keep it clean people

So I thought I’d do a quick post up of my experience cooking the Coq au Vin. As promised by El Chef Nick, it was surprisingly easy to create this French classic from scratch – and, proof in the pudding, my Dad had seconds, despite the onions.

It all kicked off the night before my parents arrived. I’d been cleaning the house for 3 evenings straight, wiping down baseboards, alphabetizing the cupboards and fridge, throwing out the various science projects that may have been growing in the back of each, stuffing all of my laundry into a downstairs closet I was 95% sure my mother wouldn’t open…the usual. Suffice to say – my body not accustomed to all this domestic activity – I was exhausted. Could I get away with pasta? I admit, the thought flitted through my mind.

But Nick, you’ll be proud: I took the dogs on their walk and then we drove, furry friends and I, direct to Tesco to make my purchases for the Coq. A small moment of panic, when I realized I’d forgotten my carefully written shopping list chez moi -- before realizing with much gratitude that I could just look at the blog online from my phone. Oh, the Power and Genius of online recipes. (A shout out also to my phone, itself, and to my employer for having gifted me said phone last Christmas. I would never have bought a smartphone of my own volition, but now cannot recall how on earth I coped without immediate, direct access to Internet at ALL TIMES, ANYWHERE, including the aisles of Tesco.)

Anyway, once I had all the ingredients back the house, I panicked a little again. Did I really want to start this at 9 p.m. at night? But thoughts of serving tortellini in pre-made sauce to my mother (horror, shame!) spurred me on and, once I got into my groove, it was fine. PLUS, I got to use my fabulous turquoise Le Creuset casserole pot – the only item in my kitchen (barring Miguel, the dogs or my cafetiere coffee maker) on which I consistently lavish love and attention.

What I liked most about making this is that, once the chicken thighs are browned, it’s basically just a question adding everything to the pot (in stages) and letting the oven do the work. I am a big fan of the one-pot recipe – this is only slightly more complicated.

Anyway, long story short – by the time I took the dish out of the oven on Thursday night, it was laaaate. Actually, it was so late and I was sufficiently tired that I set my alarm for 2:30 in the morning, so I could get up and pop it in the fridge once it had cooled to an appropriate temperature. But don’t let these machinations put you off – most normal people wouldn’t start making Coq au Vin at 9 p.m. at night and can easily avoid the above.

So, the question you’re all wondering, did I cheat at all? Well, no, not really. I did only cook 6 chicken thighs instead of the recommended 8. And I caved and bought a ready prepared “bouquet garni for white meat” (shhhhh, maybe Nick won’t notice), instead of the individual herbs. But other than that, it really was straightforward enough for an occasional cook to handle from start to finish. And the divine smell of onions (among other things) cooking in wine and chicken stock is worth the effort alone.

As Julia Child herself might say, “un grand succes!”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Outside my usual vein, but...........

Just for anyone who might be contemplating going to the movies anytime soon

THE TOWN = one of the best movies i've seen period in recent memory

Ben Affleck is suprisingly awesome, the characters are well developed. The story is good, I really had zero complaints, and was, as cliche as it sounds, on the edge of my seat to see what happened.

Following the movie, we went to eat at the Bangladeshi restaurant Panahar, whose review will soon follow.....pretty good.

As a side note, I rented "greenberg" with Ben Stiller, and I couldn't even watch an hour of this pile of crap. I haven't seen a movie this awkward and putrid since Danielle went through her "I like Swedish Film phase". That was a rough period, but I digress.


Some wine picks for the fall

It's time. Fall is upon us. Time to put away the sauvignon blanc, and move into some new varietals to ring in the new season. I'll tell you a few of my favorites for this time of year, and what they pair with. Fall wine is almost as varied as fall food, and I'm ready to pop open some Gruner Veltliner and fire up the smoker!!!!!!!!!!!

1)Gruner Veltliner - one of my favorites for this time of year. It's Austria most planted grape, and is really a very versatile wine. Medium bodied, usually with good fruit, some minerality, and a good, but not over crisp, acidity. This is the wine to drink if you're smoking a turkey......Thanksgiving Dinner?? Perfect match. This will really do well with most grilled/smoked white meats, and a lot of hardier flavored/textured seafood i.e. grilled swordfish.

2)Gerwurtztraminer - This is a great option for fall patio sipping. Usually pretty viscous and full bodied, this wine comes in both sweet and dryer forms. I personally like the drier ones. Usually, a good balance of floral/citrus notes with good zest and spice to even it out. Not as syrupy, USUALLY, as reislings. Deloach is a good one to try it out to see if you like it for not too much money, $12ish. Good with pork dishes, cream dishes, and smoked fish.

3)Viogner - Once again, this is a thick, full bodied wine. Usually, very floral, sweet but not overly, and aromatic. This is a great wine for thai food, good spicy dishes, and shellfish. I love a viogner if I'm having bouillabase, cioppino, or paella. The best Viogner still comes from the Condrieu area in France, but there are some very good, more affordable options coming from California.

Malbec - This is not only I think the best wine for the season, it's also one of the easiest to not break the bank on and still get a great bottle of wine. Look for the Mendoza region as some of Argentina's best examples are from there. It's a versatile wine too. Cigars in the evening...perfect. Roast leg of lamb....beyond perfect. Brisket..good too. Really any meat, or any dish with a tomato base to it is ideal. This wine has good substance to it, enough tooth to make it stand up, but isn't so huge that you have to have a steak to make it drinkable. Good balance, GREAT VALUE.......good combo.

2)Petite Syrah - This wine is great for fall because it is a heavy, intense, tannic grape without being overyly any of the aforementioned. Tooth-stainingly purple in color, and with enough backbone to stand up to spicy BBQ, smoked anything, but enough subtlety to not overpower a great steak, this is just all-around a great grape. However, the cheapies on this grape are not usually a good way to go. Spend the money on this one though, it'll be worth it.

3)Negroamaro - grown mostly in Puglia and Sardinia, this wine translates literally to black and bitter. This is a pretty good clue to it's taste and appearance. It's usually a very dark, very earthy, rustic wine. That being said, it is also usually quite aromatic and perfumed, especially when it's blended with other grapes, usually about 80% NM, 20% other. This creates a really well balanced fall wine which is still usually just labeled Negroamaro. This is the wine for fall pastas, grilled pizzas, or that wild boar ragu that I know you're planning on making next week....or maybe that's just me?

Anywho, hope this helps, or leads someone to try a wine they haven't before. I'd love to hear what you guys like to drink while the leaves change..........let me know

"It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, the death of a friend, a present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason"
I Like this quote I dislike this quote
"Wine is a peep-hole on a man" - ALCAEUS

"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken from me" WINSTON CHURCHILL

PS - if you ever need a quote about anything, check out winston churchill, he talked about everything, and was either amusing or insightful about all of it

Friday, October 8, 2010

OK Andrew, Sorry this one took so long

First of all, yes, this is my own basil that I'm growing....not too shabby looking huh? Secondly, this is a request from my friend Andrew. He has done even better than me at growing his basil, and now needs something to do with it all before the frost starts. So, we are going to make a big batch of pesto, and then I'll tell you the best way to freeze it so you can eat fresh from the garden pesto 3 months after the garden is, sadly, no more.

First the first, the recipe:

4 cups of packed basil leaves
6 cloves of garlic, I like mine garlicky, if you don't, go down to four
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted (dry pan, low heat, till lightly colored)
1 1/3 cups olive oil, use a good one
1 cup parmesan, or pecorino cheese, it comes out a bit different with each, but both are tasty
Salt and Pepper to taste

1)This is your basic recipe. Place basil, garlic, and nuts in food processor. Pulse until a nice, uniform, pasty consistency is formed.
2)Slowly, while processor is on, drizzle in 1 cup of the olive oil so it emulsifies. I don't like broken pesto, it looks like s&^t
3)Add cheese, and blend till smooth again.
4)Season to taste. Put into 8 oz deli containers and top each with remaining oil. Refridgerate or freeze depending on when you're going to use it.

Like I said, this is the basic recipe. A lot of the time, I'll add a serrano chile for a little spice. Or, you can take out the basil, and use cilantro....delicious on a piece of grilled fish. Or sub pecans for the pine nuts. Really, pesto is as much a technique as a recipe, so play around with the ingredients, just master the process.
Because, as the great Julia Child said

"Master a recipe, and you can eat for one night, learn a technique, and you'll eat every night"

Hope y'all enjoy...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Installment two of the dinner on a budget series>>>>DUCK CONFIT!!!!!!!!!

So, I was feeling a little cash poor today, and was thus motivated to continue my little series on how to make great dinners without spending great sums. Today, we are going to transform duck legs (above) into one of the most delicious forms of poultry known to man, duck confit (below). A quick disclaimer, this is not ever going to appear on 30 minute meals, not only because it is beyond Rachel's viewership talent range (that was below the belt, and kind of untrue, because this is actually a very easy dish), but because it is a multi-day process. First we cure the leg (24 hours, but only about 5 minutes of actual work), then we confit the leg (overnight in the oven, but once again, you just pop it in there and go to sleep), then we actually get it ready for eating. So, it takes a little commitment, but oh so worth it in the eating.

First, just to define what we are doing here...the term confit refers to slowly cooking something in (its' own usually) fat. This means, yes, you are going to buy duck fat...however, it is an incredibly useful thing to have around the kitchen, keeps forever, and can be used to make the best roasted potatoes you have ever tasted. I'll give you that recipe at the end of this one....maybe.

And so, without further ado........LA RECIPE
Stage 1:Curing your duck legs
4 duck legs
3 tblsp sugar
3 tblsp kosher salt
4 juniper berries, coarse ground
1 tblsp black pepper, coarse ground
1 tblsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fennel seed, coarse ground
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tblsp herbes de provence

1)Mix all ingredients together, and thoroughly coat duck legs in the salt mixture.
2)Wad up some aluminum foil and place in bottom of deep tupperware container
3)Place coated duck legs atop foil, cover, and leave in fridge for a minumum of 24 hours and a maximum of 48 hours. Pretty easy so far, right?

Stage 2:confiting, confit?
All you need is your now cured duck legs and a tub of duck fat (roughly 2-3 lbs). Simply place your duck legs in a thick oven proof dish. A cassoulet pot is best, but you can improvise. Then, top with your duck fat, so that the duck will be completely covered once fat melts. Place in the oven at 250 degrees for 6-8 hours (or so). Just check and make sure the duck looks like it's about to fall apart tender and you're good to go. I just put it in around 11pm as I'm getting ready for bed, and take it out when I wake up in the morning. As a side note, some chefs like to put things like garlic or herbs in with the fat at this step....up to you. Once you pull the duck from the oven, leave it in the pot with the fat and refridgerate. If you try to mess with the duck at this point, it will more than likely just fall apart.

Stage 3:Getting it ready to eat.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place confit skin side down in a nice, thick saute pan. Put duck in oven, and leave it there until the skin has rendered out and is nice, golden, and crispy.

My favorite way to serve it is either
1)atop a nice simple salad of arugula, maybe with some grapes, and pistachios
2)atop a nice simple white bean stew (white beans, mirepoix, chicken stock, and a few fresh herbs). This would be pretty close to the traditional french way.

As far as wines go, I like a nice, fairly fruity red with this's probably one of the few things that i'll recommend a pinot noir with. The SLIGHT gaminess of the duck is paired nicely with a little sweet fruit.


Oh, I almost forgot. Once you have crisped up and eaten your confit, what to do with all that duck fat. Strain it, and it will keep in the fridge for over 6 months. Saute veggies in it. Make a warm vinaigrette with it instead of olive oil. Or roast potatoes in it, they will be the best potatoes you have ever eaten.

2 lbs idaho potatoes, cut into one inch cubes
1/8 cup duck fat, room temp
1 tblsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Toss all the ingredients together and let sit on counter for 15 minutes. Then place in 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Then, go hide somewhere, and eat all 2 lbs of potatoes by yourself. Just kidding.........maybe.