A GOOP apologist

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In the late 90s, when the first anti-Gwyneth Paltrow backlash was in the news gossip pages, one of my contrarian friends made the conscious decision to become a Paltrow supporter. If something negative came up (and working at a sports magazine with grizzled black-hearted former newspapermen, it did), he’d extol her virtues, her beauty, her cerebral screen presence — basically, anything he could do to get under a detractor’s skin.

Now that the second wave of backlash has come around, I think I might just find myself taking on his old role. Like many people, I signed up for the GOOP newsletter looking for a laugh, but something odd happened — I didn’t always delete them. In fact, I’ve kept nearly every recipe sent from the beginning. (I make no such claim about the lifestyle or shopping tips, but this is a food blog after all.) And let’s be honest — who among us wouldn’t want to be in her position, culinarily speaking? She’s buds with Batali hisownself and probably picked up a thing or two traveling through Spain with him. So when she speaks (and mentions him in the newsletter), I listen.

Last week’s menu featured a few dishes from a meal she had at his home — a meal to which Emeril was invited, btw. Yes, the eyes do roll, but damn, this meal sounded pretty fabulous. And it didn’t disappoint, even with a few changes made to the menu. The chicken dish pictured above is a Spanish affair, complete with thinly sliced onions, lemons and fennel sautéed together with white wine and pimenton, then roasted in the oven. As if all of that weren’t enough, the whole cloves of garlic that baked and softened in the broth were absolute heaven and force me to apologize here and now to anyone who happened to be next to me at the gym yesterday. (I confess to being agnostic about preserved lemons, so when I ran out a few months ago, I didn’t bother restocking. The pomegranate pips were another story. There were none to be found in the few markets I visited, so they were a necessary deletion, but sorely missed.)

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Blood oranges. Mmmm. They’re one of my favorite things about this time of year. We’re all just barely hanging in there, waiting for a Spring that seems to retreat the closer we march to it, but at least these beauties bring a dash of color and verve to the last gray days of winter.

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The fennel and blood orange salad recipe offered with the chicken was incredibly simple to make and tasted fresh, light and healthy. Because the oranges aren’t terribly acidic, I added a splash of white balsamic to the mix to brighten up the flavors a bit. I’d imagine some thinly sliced red onion would be very good in here, too.

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The flatbreads were a bit problematic. My kitchen was a little too cold, so the dough didn’t rise in time to have them with our meal. That’s ok, though. I made them later, and we snacked on them with agave nectar all afternoon; they worked just as well for dessert.

So I don’t know where you stand on GOOP, but I’d heartily recommend the newsletter if you’re looking for a few (mostly healthy) ideas for dinner. And if you don’t enjoy that, you can join in the schadenfreude, I suppose.

Back in the kitchen

Having cooked only one meal — braised short ribs with pasta — during Christmas vacation with my parents, I was itching to get back into my kitchen to prepare some decidedly non-processed fare. I wanted to keep it fairly light for our first meal back, which I did with caramelized fennel topped with garlic and anchovy bread crumbs.

When I’ve caramelized fennel before, I’ve always grilled it, but that wasn’t an option with the cold and the wind and general winteriness outdoors, so I marinated the fennel slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt & pepper, and some whole grain Dijon mustard before caramelizing it in a pan with a touch of olive oil. Once the fennel had some good color and had just started to soften, I added a little water and covered the pan tightly so it would finish cooking through.

While the fennel was steaming, I tore the crust from four pieces of whole wheat bread and whirred the soft insides in a food processor to make fresh breadcrumbs. I stirred about a half tablespoon of olive oil, a small clove of minced garlic, and an anchovy filet in a skillet over medium heat until the anchovy had dissolved and the garlic was just starting to turn golden. At that point, I added the breadcrumbs and a little salt & pepper and tossed the mixture over medium-high heat until the breadcrumbs were toasty and so fragrant I couldn’t help but sample a pinch straight from the pan.

I do think it’ll be better in the summer, when the fennel is even more aggressively caramelized from the grill, but this was quite tasty for a thrown-together dinner. It’d make a nice side dish or even as a topping for pasta if you reduced the marinade into a sauce. Yum.

Today, I thought I’d make something a little more substantial, so I turned to my bookmarks folder to dig up Jennifer’s deep dish pizza recipe. I added my own spin, using what we had in the house — a tiny bit of salami for flavor, Trader Joe’s fire roasted red and yellow peppers (which I find completely addictive), oil marinated sun-dried tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and a healthy topping of mozzarella.

We spent the morning at the new Corrado’s Family Affair in Wayne, NJ; while I oohed and aahhed over the gorgeous produce, Gil dutifully followed me with the cart. I used Corrado’s brand San Marzano tomatoes for the sauce and was really surprised by how delicious this pizza was, given how tinny the tomatoes tasted straight from the can. I doctored the sauce pretty heavily with extra everything and some sugar and red wine vinegar, though.

But the real reason to try this recipe is for the heavenly crust, which was just perfect, in my decidedly non-authoritative opinion — the crisp base supported a soft, chewy layer and ultimately all of the toppings I piled on. Next time, I’ll probably add even more, now that I know there’s some serious structural integrity to this pie.

P.S. Peter — thank you for the book! I plan to dive in this weekend. Love it. 🙂

My own cure

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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.