Sinful. Just… full of sin

I just looked over my last few posts and realized they’re all about capital-C Comfort foods. Thick, rich chocolate pudding, mascarpone cream, spicy soup… while I’m on a roll, let’s add one more to the list, shall we?

Bacon Jam — a wonderful motivator, I’ve found.

As a reason for getting out of bed: Spread it on toast, top it with a perfectly (or not) poached egg for a sunny, sweet and savory start to the day.

with bacon jam and avocado

It’ll get you into the kitchen instead of grabbing a quick bite. Fast food pales in comparison to this grilled cheese sandwich: Bacon jam blanketed in cheddar cheese and studded with avocado between two slices of buttered (and I mean buttered) bread, then grilled till the bread crunches at the first bite while the filling simply yields itself.

bacon jam

It’s also a reason to, I dunno, clean the fridge maybe? If you already happened to be in there, and the jar was staring you in the face and no one’s watching you could take a spoonful straight from the jar. (Not that I’d ever dream of doing such a thing.)

I’m certain there are other, more diabolical motivational uses for this, but I’ll have to work on them. As it is, I’m mostly motivated to make another batch since I gave away over half. But four out of four carnivores agree; this stuff is perfection.

Thanks to Stephanie, for posting about this at Fresh Tart.

grilled cheese with bacon jam & avocado

grilled cheese with bacon jam & avocado

recipe after the jump

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Pizza, My Endless Love

smoked trout & roasted garlic vs. pepperoni & roasted red peppers

Most days, I’ll hit the gym at lunch if I have the time to spare at work. With my commute, it’s the only chance I ever have for a real workout and I always feel better when I manage to do it. But Friday, I just wasn’t feeling it, so I hiked over to Chelsea Market instead. I’ve read great things about the gluten-free offerings at Friedman’s Lunch and wanted to try out one of their sandwiches after picking up some pantry staples at Buon Italia. The reuben from Friedman’s came back to work with me, and it was really, truly delicious, so much so that I didn’t miss the “real” bread one bit. Of course, I was ready to nap within 15 minutes of finishing it, but what a happy food coma it was.

My heavenly sandwich notwithstanding, the best part of my shopping expedition was scoring The Last Package of sheep’s milk ricotta at Buon Italia. They were out the last few times I’ve been, so my search started to feel a little like Woody Harrelson’s eternal quest for Twinkies in Zombieland. But then that lone package appeared before me, like a cream-covered grail.

Ummm yeah, you could say I love the stuff.

Anyway, the wheels started spinning even before I left the building . . . pasta would be good, maybe with some butternut squash. My old standby — ravioli stuffed with ricotta and an egg yolk — wasn’t something I wanted to waste this precious bundle on during my first attempt at making a fresh gluten-free pasta, so that was out. But how about pizza? Gluten-Free Girl‘s pizza crust was just featured on Michael Ruhlman’s blog, so I could share the recipe. And from there, I was off, doing taste tests in my imagination, adding/rejecting toppings based on how they’d play with the ricotta. I finally settled upon a recipe that, while simple, worked perfectly, with roasted garlic, smoked trout, a touch of parmesan and baby arugula. The ingredients married well, without any one component overshadowing the others.

I went with bolder toppings for the second pizza, adding muenster cheese (we had no mozzarella), plum tomatoes, sliced pepperoni, roasted red peppers, more ricotta, parmesan, red pepper flakes and the few remaining leaves of basil from my plant on the deck. Neither Gil nor I could decide which pizza we liked more, even after taste testing until we nearly burst. The only thing I’d change for next time would be to roll out the crust as thin as possible, till it’s almost crackly, but that’s just a personal preference.

So remember, kids:
1. Friedman’s Lunch = awesome, but plan for a nap.
2. Try to take my sheep’s milk ricotta and you’ll lose a hand.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Pizza, My Endless Love”

Tarted up

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Restorative.

That’s what this weekend has been for me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It began Friday with an afternoon spent wandering Tribeca searching out lonely cobblestone streets for a portrait session next weekend. I found a couple of candidates that will work wonderfully, but the best part of the afternoon was simply being alone with my thoughts, not working, not stressing, just being. 13+ hours of working and commuting each day is draining during good weeks, but has been especially brutal for the past few months with no hope of vacation between April and Christmas and deadlines upon deadlines. It really got to me.

So that simple half day meant more to me than I can say. I returned home that evening practically dancing and ready to greet the weekend. We paid our weekly visit to the farmers’ market Saturday morning where I loaded up on produce, fresh cheese and grass-fed beef, then spent the rest of the day out and about. So there was no cooking until today, really, unless you count the white chili I made last night with the remnants of our mid-week roasted chicken. It was nothing out of the ordinary — just the usual suspects with cannellini beans and some Rancho Gordo hominy (and cooking liquid) thrown in for good measure. Oh, and topped with farmer cheese and some of that green salsa from a couple of weeks ago. Yum.

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I skipped the greyhound hike today to spend a little extra time cooking, so as soon as the boys left, I cranked up some bluegrass and got to work on this pear tart. I went savory instead of sweet, and finally got to try Clotilde’s olive oil tart crust (which deserves every rave review it got). It featured the goodness of caramelized onions, fresh herbs, gorgonzola, walnuts and fig vinegar. Again, nothing too out of the ordinary, but why reinvent the wheel when this combo is so very, very good?

But the first bite proved it was still missing a little something, so I sprinkled it with a little fleur de sel and grated a little Balinese long pepper over it. Yes, I sound like a brat, but this pepper is amazing stuff and went perfectly with the tart. Per-fect-l-y. It’s been sitting in my pantry since Memorial Day, and I can’t believe all the time I wasted not using it.

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Bosc pears channeling Rosalind Russell

recipe after the jump

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Are you ready for some football (-shaped nuggets of deliciosity)?

It’s strictly coincidence that I made gnudi on the NFL’s opening weekend. (A quick note to the league: Many thanks for kicking off the season with The Hochuli last Thursday night! Your female fan base was pleased, I assure you.) You see, I had planned to revisit the egg yolk ravioli I made a few months ago, only with sheep’s milk ricotta per cook eat FRET‘s suggestion, but with all of the excess moisture in the air I decided not to test my pasta-making skills in such a hostile environment. So gnudi it was! And what a happy turn of events, really.

Cuz, wow. Good stuff.

All of the recipes I found online were variations on the same basic theme — ricotta, parmiggiano-reggiano, an egg, and some flour. I figured I could work on proportions to taste, so I just winged it from there. How can you go wrong with a bowl of sheep’s milk ricotta?

Turns out, you really can’t.

I tasted as I mixed the ingredients together, adding a little more grated cheese here, some salt and pepper there to offset the addition of flour, then rolled a tablespoon of the mixture at a time into little footballish-shaped dumplings before rolling them lightly in flour. They cooked in almost no time — about 5 minutes or so in a pot of simmering, salted water. I took them out shortly after they rose to the surface and let them drain on a paper towel-lined plate while I was getting the sauce and garnishes together.

To start, I browned walnut pieces in a small pan with about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, then put the walnuts aside on a cutting board to cool. They seemed a little bland at this point, so I sprinkled them liberally with salt & black pepper and um … ate about half of them before the rest of the dish was even finished. Highly recommended.

After washing the pan (and my delicious buttery, salty fingers), I added about two tablespoons of butter and fried the sage leaves just as soon as the butter had melted and started to sizzle. By the time they were done the butter had started to brown, so I added the gnudi to the pan and cooked them for a minute or two on each side, until they’d developed a thin crust and smelled heavenly. A quick spritz of lemon juice brightened the flavors just enough so the dish didn’t feel as heavy or rich as it really was.

I only cooked six of the 30 or so gnudi I made, so I froze the uncooked ones on a baking sheet before transferring them to a plastic storage bag. Now we’ll have plenty for leftovers when we want them again, which should be in about 24 hours or so.

Of course, what I really need to do is get to The Spotted Pig to try the real deal even though mine will inevitably suffer in comparison. Hey, I’m willing to take my lumps; it’s the only way to learn.

Anticip…ation

Last week, I paid another early-morning visit to Buon Italia for the express purpose of buying my weight in cheese. Naturally, pork products leaped into my basket as well (insistent little buggers, they are), but the primary purpose of this trip was loading up on cheese, glorious cheese, because one of the recipes at the top of my weekend to-do list was marinated feta, inspired by this David Lebovitz post.

It seems to be a pretty simple recipe, open to any number of variations. French feta was available at Buon Italia, so that’s what I used here, but once Corrado’s Family Affair opens its Wayne branch, you can bet I’ll be up to my ears in Bulgarian feta, my favorite. I kept the flavorings to a minimum for this first batch, though you can really let your creativity shine. My thyme plant is one of the few herbs that produced for me this summer, so I gathered about 10-15 sprigs and layered them in a large glass jar with the cubed feta (about 1 1/2-inch pieces), a couple of sage leaves from a less prolific herb plant, a few thin strips of lemon zest, dried oregano, lots of red pepper flakes, black pepper, and a couple of small bay leaves. (Because it’s a simple thing to grow your very own jar of botulism when storing garlic in olive oil, I avoided adding it to the blend.)

Oh, did I forget to mention the olive oil?

Yeah, this recipe uses a lot of it, so I went with my basic everyday stuff — Colavita extra virgin — instead of a good finishing oil. It’s exceptionally fruity, very affordable, available at my local grocery, and comes with Lidia’s stamp of approval — what more could I want?

This marinated feta holds the promise of getting better with age, but will I be able to resist its siren song long enough to find out?

You see, I have plans for this stuff. While tomatoes are still in season, they’re demanding a date with the feta. Then there’s grilled pizza, perhaps a nice spinach pie with roasted garlic, and of course, sampling it straight from the jar.

But for now, the feta marinates…

Flan flan flan flan…

When Gil and I visited Milan last year, we had quite a few memorable meals, as you can imagine, and most of them were within walking distance of our hotel. The pizza at a nearby trattoria (run by Chinese immigrants in the dead-after-dark financial district) was leagues better than anything we’ve ever tried in the States, and the revelatory salumi at Osteria del Treno still makes it challenging for us to completely enjoy local cured meats (though I do have my eye on a couple of mail order purveyors). But my favorite dish of the trip, the one I recall with a sigh, had to be the parmesan flan at Joia.

The soft, cakey exterior of the flan spilled its secret as I cut my first bite and discovered a pool of parmesan flooding out to greet me. Much like the moment of piercing a poached egg yolk and realizing there are only a few fleeting seconds to truly enjoy the sensation at its finest, it filled me with delight and longing. But the ephemeral joys of these dishes are part of the reason we love them so, aren’t they?

Cooking Light published a recipe for parmesan flan in their most recent issue and I considered making it, but didn’t think it’d come even close to what I remembered, so I hit the interweb looking for a better more sinful recipe. I found it at Weir Cooking in the City. I did like CL’s idea of using fresh tomatoes as a topping, though, so I prepared a few heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market in my favorite summery way — doused with fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar and shot through with minced garlic and slivered basil, with salt & pepper to taste. It’s simple and delicious as a bruschetta topping, on crackers, as a topping for fish or pasta, or even eaten on its own in great spoonfuls. Yum.

I forgot that convection ovens cook a little faster than regular ovens do, so the flans were a little crusty on top, but still completely delicious. I’ll keep looking for a recipe that duplicates that glorious parmesan flood, but until then, this flan is staying in the rotation.

recipe after the jump

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Happy Halloween

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Cheese is philosophically interesting as a food whose qualities depend on the action of bacteria — it is, as James Joyce remarked, “the corpse of milk.” Dead milk, live bacteria. A similar process of controlled spoilage is apparent in the process of hanging game, where some degree of rotting helps to make the meat tender and flavorsome — even if one no longer entirely subscribes to the nineteenth-century dictum that a hung pheasant is only ready for eating when the first maggot drops onto the larder floor. With meat and game, the bacterial action is a desideratum rather than a necessity, which it is in the case of cheese — a point grasped even in Old Testament times, as Job reveals in his interrogation of the Lord: “Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?” The process of ripening in cheese is a little like the human acquisition of wisdom and maturity: both processes involve a recognition, or incorporation, of the fact that life is an incurable disease with a hundred percent mortality rate — a slow variety of death.
— from The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

A simple summer salad

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For once, bad weather in the area screwed up everyone else‘s commute and didn’t affect mine at all. Hurrah! Between the uneventful trip and RESTORED AIR CONDITIONING at my office, I was feeling very fortunate, indeed. But it was still pretty darned hot out there and I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen when I got home, so the only thing I cooked indoors was a small pot of quinoa to use as the base of a Greek-inspired summer salad.

There’s no real recipe, as I just threw in handfuls of whatever we had in the fridge. That amounted to sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, baby spinach, green onions, kalamata olives, and copious amounts of oregano, thyme, and parsley. To complete the dish, I grilled asparagus and lemon-and-garlic marinated shrimp, then tossed the everything with a garlicky lemon vinaigrette.

It was very tasty and pretty easy to assemble, but I think my favorite part of the meal was the side — grilled feta. If you’re a cheese lover and haven’t tried this yet, you really should. Just cut a block of feta in half lengthwise, brush both sides with olive oil, and sprinkle with oregano, thyme, and black pepper (or the seasonings of your choice). Wrap the whole thing in foil and grill for a few minutes on each side, open the package (carefully!), spritz with lemon juice, and serve.