Da posto

Time passed, and it was decreed that cook eat FRET needed a little root work, and thus made her pilgrimage to New York. She’s the outgoing sort who has food-blogger friends from all over the country (world, at this point?), so Gil and I met up with her, Zen Can Cook and Colloquial Cooking for dinner at Del Posto Friday night. Thursday Night Smackdown was unable to make it, so we feasted on her portion of the lardo that came around with the bread basket, and I’ll blame her when my skinny jeans no longer fit.

Our dinner companions were everything you could ask for — friendly, smart and talented, and honestly just lovely people, all-around. I’ll leave a review of the food to them, but must put in a plug for my dessert, the Sfera di Caprino, Celery & Fig Agrodolce & Celery Sorbetto, as the menu so mouthwateringly puts it. Delicious and unusual. Probably not something I’ll try to duplicate even in the slightest, but if someone out there would like to do the honors, I would not complain if you got back to me with your recipe.

Grazie!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

It has been brought to my attention (though it hadn’t really escaped my notice) that I don’t post often enough. But that’s not entirely true; just check my guest post at TNS for evidence.

090426_trout_raw

But I do have a couple of things from last weekend that are sitting in my drafts folder collecting pixel-dust, so maybe the criticism is justified. It’s really a shame, because this meal could only have been better if I’d caught the trout myself minutes before firing up the (brand new) grill. But without access to decent trout streams here, I thought Whole Foods would be an acceptable substitute. I stuffed the fish with thin lemon slices and sprigs of thyme just before grilling — simple preparations are perfect with fresh trout. Dinner was on the table about 15 minutes later, served with an avocado, tomato and red onion salad, and grilled asparagus on the side. It’s that time of year, after all.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Hey Cecily, you asked what I could do with limes…does this work?

090503_cookie

Cornmeal cookies with lime glaze, inspired by the same at Amy’s Bread. These were a little crispier and less cakey than the originals, but were still just my kind of cookie — crumbly, crunchy, sweet/tart and completely lacking in chocolate.

090426_cookiesbaked

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

And just for you, Claire — more Rufus pictures:

090426_ru_nose

The thing about a greyhound is, it’s really hard to get the nose and eyes in focus at the same time if your camera isn’t on a tripod.

090426_ru_eyes

But the boy really knows how to relax.

090426_ru_grimace

And I could learn a thing or two about patience from him.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Da posto”

Let the bon temps rouler

090223_tableau

I finally realized a couple of years ago exactly what makes northeastern winters so difficult to bear. The weather plays a large part, of course, but mostly it’s the lack of anything to look forward to between the holidays and spring (or the start of baseball season, if you’re so inclined). It’s just one long, dark slog through gray skies, snow, and wind chills in the single digits. Harumph.

Contrast that to the time and energy spent on balls and parades during carnival season in Louisiana. Beginning on Twelfth Night (January 6th) and going straight through to Mardi Gras day, even if you’re not into the whole parade thing, at the very least you can get a king cake at a local bakery. But most people catch a parade here and there in the weeks leading up to the big day, even if they don’t go all out and make the trek to New Orleans.

I’ve only been back to one Mardi Gras since I moved away from the area, but I’ve made it my annual tradition to have a little taste of home as Endymion and Bacchus roll. The winds may be howling here in New Jersey, but barbecue shrimp and king cake keep me warm inside.

090223_shrimp

For those of you who made it to the parades today, laissez les bon temps rouler, and may your hangovers be mild.

The beet and the coconut

It’s not unusual to plan a meal around one ingredient, I think. You find a beautiful cut of grass-fed beef or see a flat of ruby red strawberries and the wheels start spinning as you think about the best way to highlight their natural beauty. This sort of thinking influenced a couple of our meals this week.

Usually when I buy beets, both root and green are destined for a salad inspired by an episode of Lidia’s Family Table — roasted beets, boiled greens, and sliced green apple are tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with hard goat cheese, and seasoned only with salt & pepper. It’s simple and delicious, especially when the produce is at its freshest and most vibrant.

But wanting something different last weekend and thinking (incorrectly) I was prepared to deal with a certain amount of frustration, I decided on a beet tart adapted from this one. The process involved me buying my first tart pan from a store that fascinates and repels me in equal measure — New York Cake & Baking Distribution, conveniently located across the street from my office. I’m attracted to its bare bones design and singularity of purpose; this isn’t a place you go for a comfortable shopping experience with easily navigable aisles or readily located merchandise. No, you go here for baking supplies (pretty much anything at all) at a good price. Period. I’m repelled only because I’m woefully ignorant about baking and expect to be given the bum’s rush when I walk in. Insecure much?

And, you know, there’s a reason for my insecurity — I’ve never once made a pie crust that hasn’t frustrated me to the point of tears. Part of the problem is a lack of counter space, but mostly it’s simple inexperience. Is the dough too dry? Is it too wet? I DON’T KNOW! I think the problem you see above was a too-dry crust, but couldn’t say. My quick fix was to jam bits of dough into the areas where it broke apart, figuring the filling would hide my mistakes from sight, if not taste.

But what a filling it was! While the beets were roasting, I threw in a whole head of garlic, too, which I later sautéed with a chopped onion and copious amounts of thyme. Just meditate on that for a minute.

And then I topped that layer with an egg, crème fraiche, and goat cheese cheese mixture before the roasted beets and even more cheese found their way to the tippy top of the tart.

It was a lot of work, I won’t lie, and I don’t really know if I’ll be preparing the crust again since I’m such a numskull with the pastry-making, but that filling definitely will be featured again in future meals, the layers alone or in some combination. For you see, it was DELICIOUS.

OK, it looks a little pizza-like, but warm from the oven with the sweet caramelized onions, garlic and beets sandwiching that creamy filling, mmmm…

We polished off about half of the tart on the spot, calling it dinner, and put the other half away for quick lunches later in the week.

The other (and probably the more surprising) ingredient I planned a meal around was … coconut juice. I picked it up on a whim at the grocery one day and couldn’t quite figure out what to do with it, so it languished in the pantry for a few weeks. Then I thought — hey, Thai! So I broke out my new rice cooker and set about making coconut rice with brown basmati and a mixture of coconut milk and strained coconut juice. I was on a roll!

To top the rice, I defrosted about a cup of sofrito from my stash, thinking the cilantro and culantro would be right at home with the coconut, and made a thick stew with the addition of lime-marinated shrimp, shrimp stock, hot pepper paste, and the rest of the coconut milk/juice. I topped it all with thinly sliced green onions and toasted sweetened coconut to balance the tartness from the lime and have to say I was pretty pleased with the outcome:

But I think it could’ve used more heat and possibly a little funky fish sauce to bring the whole thing together. I’ll try that variation next time and report back to you.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with this post, really, but because ’tis the season, I have to show you what I did with my garlic scapes last weekend instead of grilling them.

I made a chickpea dip inspired by Mark Bittman’s white bean dip with lemon zest. I could eat this everyday. I just whirled together some canned chickpeas (drained of squack), the zest of one lemon, the juice of the same, quite a few chopped garlic scapes and harissa. While the machine was running, I drizzled in some good-quality olive oil until the mixture turned creamy; I topped it with more lemon juice, olive oil, and another sprinkling of harissa before we dove in. Yum.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “The beet and the coconut”

Peas

This weekend, Gil and I made a quick and early excursion to the farmers’ market (Rufus overheats easily), but still managed to return home with bags bursting from the beautiful fruits and vegetables and pickles and pies and herbs on display. I was unable to resist much, so I’ll be doing a lot of cooking (for one) this week before the greens wilt and strawberries turn to mush.

The very first things I put to use from our haul were sugar snap peas and asparagus. I sautéed them lightly in butter and olive oil with garlic and reconstituted morels, then steamed them till tender with a little of the morel liquid. I topped the vegetables with chives and thyme from my herb garden and was very happy, indeed, until I had the bright idea to serve it with red snapper fresh from the freezer. And quelle surprise! the fish wasn’t so great, but it’s finally convinced me of the need to find a good fish market in the area. If anyone out there knows of a good one in Passaic or Bergen county, let me know.

Because I have real trouble letting anything go to waste, it was a happy day when I saw a recipe for chilled pea pod soup at Chocolate & Zucchini. I plan to make this until the market runs out of snap peas; it was light, delicious, and refreshing, especially topped with a spoonful of crème fraiche and more chives from my herb garden. Yum.

My own cure

mahimahi.jpg

I’ve been following Apartment Therapy’s Kitchn Cure for the past few weeks, thinking what a great idea it would be to do one of their assignments in our house someday. Of course something always seems to come up — travel, dog adoption, and chronic laziness being the three obstacles lately — but I did find inspiration in this week’s assignment to clean out the fridge and pantry, tossing processed foods and things that contain high fructose corn syrup. I’ve been on the anti-HFCS bandwagon from a taste perspective for years, so we don’t have much of that stuff around here, but I did toss an old bottle of ketchup which I’ve replaced with the organic stuff from Trader Joe’s. (Haven’t tried it yet, but I’ll let you know how it compares to the Heinz gold standard.)

While I was in there, I took note of anything that was nearing its expiration date and should be used ASAP, which is a roundabout way of saying that this meal was brought to you by cleaning out the fridge. Appetizing, yes? What lurked in the inky depths were leftover chopped tomatoes in juice, a fennel bulb waaay back in the crisper drawer, and half a jar of roasted peppers. Hmmm, tomatoes and fennel, tomatoes and fennel. When it comes to those two ingredients, there’s only one place to go for inspiration, so I headed over to Last Night’s Dinner and cobbled together a meal that did me proud.

It was really simple to put together, too, and could easily qualify as a weeknight meal. In a stainless steel pan, I heated some olive oil and sautéeed half of a thinly sliced red onion, a thinly sliced fennel bulb, and three small chopped cloves of garlic. Once they’d softened, I deglazed the pan with about 1/4 cup of Herbsaint to deepen that lovely fennel flavor even more; feel free to substitute another anise-flavored liquer or simply dry white wine if you don’t have it. Once most of the liquid had cooked off, I added about 3/4 of a large can of chopped tomatoes in juice, 1/2 jar of chopped roasted peppers, 1/4 cup golden raisins, salt, and pepper, and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Into the food processor it went (being quite unattractive in its natural state) along with some lemon juice for a quick whirl; it emerged much better-looking than it had been only minutes before.

When we were at Trader Joe’s last weekend, I branched out from the organic ketchup and picked up a bit of fish and a brown rice medley, which completed this meal. I seasoned the mahi mahi filets well with salt & pepper, then dusted them lightly with flour and pan fried them in a little olive and canola oil until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side. The light crust added a nice dimension to the fish and even held up to the liberal dousing of lemon juice I always give white fish before serving.

Bad photo, good fish

salmon.jpg

I’m not usually the most pleasant person during my commute — not that I’m particularly unpleasant, but I typically don’t go out of my way to socialize with other people on the bus. In fact, I find it really annoying when I’m sitting near people who won’tjustshutupfortheloveofgodandlettherestofustakeanaporread, so I try to do unto others, etc. But one evening, I happened to sit next to a woman who, like me, was reading and dog-earing a cooking magazine; well, one thing led to another and before I knew it we were trading recipes and sharing stories.

Gawd, I can be SO annoying.

I’ve thought about her often in the months since — how she doesn’t bake bread anymore since a sudden onset of psoriatic arthritis left her in near-constant pain, about her love of Italian food, and of her passion for finding healthy recipes her brother can test, given his own health woes. One of the recipes she shared with me was for salmon with an orange marinade and smoked paprika that sounded divine, even though, she warned me sotto voce, “It’s a McCormick’s recipe.” It slipped my mind until I saw that very same recipe in an ad in this month’s Gourmet magazine, so I gave it a try last night before I could forget about it again.

Gil defrosted the salmon we’d bought on our last Trader Joe’s run and started the marinade before I got home, so all I had to do was assemble the dry rub (though I didn’t use McCormick’s spices), pat down the salmon with it, and set it in the oven to roast for 10 minutes. While that was cooking, I quickly sautéed some baby spinach in olive oil and garlic, and dinner was on the table in about 20 minutes.

I guess sometimes it pays to venture out of my circumscribed little world. The routine of commuting can be wearying and it’s always easier to conserve energy than to make a connection, but I’m happy that at least in this one instance, it really paid off. The salmon had wonderful depth of flavor. The ingredients didn’t mingle together so much as wash over the tongue in waves; the bright, sunny citrus gave way to sugar and smoky paprika which morphed into a puff of cinnamon before leaving only the flavor of the salmon behind. I’ll keep this recipe handy for quick, healthy dinners.

recipe after the jump

Continue reading “Bad photo, good fish”

I’m half crazy, all for the love of you

shellfish-saute.jpg

Do you know Daisy Martinez? Do you love her as much as I do? I discovered her public television show Daisy Cooks! shortly after I moved to Ringwood and began scheduling my Sunday treadmill sessions around it; her PASSION for Latin cooking and sharing her knowledge not only made the time pass likethat, but she piqued my curiosity about this area of cooking that has gotten short shrift compared to, say, Italian and French.

And so how happy was I to open my Christmas gift from our friend Tom and discover her cookbook in the box?! Tom sent Gil a hilarious Jimmy Olsen comic collection in the same shipment, so we sat on the couch talking over each other for an evening:

“Oh, look! Six-armed Jimmy Olsen!”

“Hey, sofrito!”

“Ooh, I remember this one! Jimmy got zapped with a ray and turned giant sea-turtle man!”

“PERNIL!”

reading.jpg

So the presents were well received, I’d say. But back to Daisy. I bought the ingredients to make sofrito, which turned out to be a lot like the Cajun trinity, only even MORE flavorful and garlicky — heaven. I also got a big pot of chicken stock going on the stove in my new 12-quart stock pot and began dreaming of garlic soup with chorizo and chicken with soupy yellow rice and alcaparrado. (Incidentally, how great is that word? Very sexy, I think.) It involved a full weekend of cooking, but ultimately, everything was so far beyond delicious, I couldn’t even get up the nerve to post. Just incredible. Buy. This. Book.

Yesterday, we had her 20-minute shellfish sauté and even though I screwed things up in a major way, it still “made my mouth sing.” I couldn’t find littleneck clams and don’t care for them much, anyway, so we did without. Not a huge deal, but I was evidently lobotomized before doing my grocery shopping in the morning and came home with a bunch of cilantro instead of the parsley the dish called for. No worries! I added chopped chorizo to the dish to balance the more assertive cilantro. Other than that, this meal called for just a few ingredients, anyway — scallops, shrimp, white wine, a slurry of milk and cornstarch, and tons of garlic. I added some bittersweet pimentòn just before serving and it disappeared faster than anything I’ve made in a long time. So now we’re three-for-three with this cookbook. Dare I try a fourth today?

Did I mention how much I love Daisy? Cuz I do. I really do.

Another shrimpy evening

shrimpgrits.jpg

It was one of those weeks. Late nights at work (and many more to come for the next three months — my boss starts her maternity leave Monday) had me getting home too late to even consider cooking. But I hit the wall yesterday and decided to take off on time! Oh, what luxury!

In need of serious comfort food after such a grueling week, but not wanting to spend too much time in thought, I turned to my old standby — shrimp and grits. I never make it the same way twice, which hasn’t always been such a great idea, but this time it really hit the spot.

To about 3/4 lb. of peeled jumbo shrimp, I added some hot pimenton, a clove of chopped garlic, thyme, and oregano, then started on the grits. I like to use old fashioned, but if you don’t care that much or have no experience with grits at all, quick-cooking is probably fine. I set them to simmer in a mixture of 1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 water with a touch of salt and a bay leaf thrown in.

While the grits were cooking, I got the sauce ready. In about a teaspoon of avocado oil, I sauteed thinly sliced garlic and one slice of chopped bacon until the bacon had rendered and the garlic was golden. To that, I added a splash of white wine, a small can of whole tomatoes which I broke up with the back of the spoon, about a tablespoon of chopped sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, then seasoned with crushed red pepper and more pimenton, thyme, and oregano. Once the mixture thickened, I added the shrimp to cook for a few minutes, then stirred in some heavy cream at the end of the cooking time to mellow out the flavors a bit.

Now the grits were ready, so I removed the bay leaf and added about 1/4 cup of heavy cream and maybe 1/2 cup of shredded asiago cheese. I served the shrimp over grits in bowls and topped the whole thing with slivers of green onions, then sat down to a home-cooked dinner with my husband. A perfect end to an imperfect week.

Leave it to a Cajun…

to know his way around a shrimp recipe. If you haven’t yet clicked on the new Chadzilla cooking link at right, you’re in for a treat. I discovered his site a few weeks ago googling god-knows-what and stuck around for his love of scientific cooking and plain old enthusiasm for good food.

One of the techniques he trumpets is sous vide, but I’m too wary of trying it in my own kitchen, so the next best thing, I figure, is poaching. As it turns out, he wrote about poaching shrimp in olive oil with preserved lemons — it sounded like something I could probably attempt with some success, and I’m happy to say it was really delicious.

shrimp1.jpg

Poaching the shrimp gave them a very delicate, almost confit-like texture (as promised). After letting them soak in the poaching oil for about 8 hours, I wrapped them with prosciutto and grilled them lightly for about 30 seconds, just long enough to warm them through and crisp the meat on one side.

The shrimp promised to be very rich, so I thought I’d cut through some of that richness with a salsa verde from an old issue of Martha Stewart Living. I reduced the mint by about half because I’m not a huge fan of the stuff, so it had just enough presence to balance with the other ingredients and wasn’t overpowering at all.

If I’m ever down Miami-way, I’ll definitely stop in at Chadzilla’s restaurant. I’m sure it’d be one of the more memorable meals of my trip.

recipes after the jump

Continue reading “Leave it to a Cajun…”