Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wine from my collection: Puro Rose

Yes, that bottle is meant to be upside-down.

Movia Puro Rose is a sparking rose wine, made on the border of Slovenia and Italy. It's stored upside-down because its yeasts have never been disgorged.

This bottle, if you can find it, is a perfect conversation piece for a party.

See, when champagne/sparkling wine is made, the winemakers first make a still white wine. Then they put that still wine in bottles and add yeast and sugars. The yeast eats the sugar, creating carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the bottle--that's what creates the bubbles in champagne.

Normally, the bottles are then turned, slowly pulling all the yeast down into the neck of the bottle, into a plug that can be disgorged. The yeast plug shoots out, the winemaker tops off the bottle with a little more grape juice and sugar, and reseals it, leaving the bubbles intact.

But the Puro Rose was never disgorged. That yeast plug was still in there.

For last weekend's dinner party, I got a bottle. (Courtesy of my restaurant, which allows me to buy the wine off their list at cost. This bottle was not in fact on the wine list--it was brought in for a special occasion dinner a few weeks ago, and they graciously allowed me to purchase one of the leftover bottles. Trust me, this stuff is not easy to find.) It comes in a sleeve, which allows you to keep it upside down, keeping that yeast plug intact.

To open it, obviously you have to disgorge the yeast plug. There's a heavy metal clamp holding the cork in;  you'll need a screwdriver or something to pry it off. But be careful--the INSTANT that metal clamp is pried off, the cork will shoot out and you'll have a fountain of expensive sparkling rose all over your floor. Be sure to have enough presence of mind to pull the bottle upright immediately.

I got a fair amount all over my floor, but it was quite a show. The wine itself was lovely--deep, complex, faintly bready. Definitely the best sparkling anything I've ever had. (Which, granted, is not an especially wide category.)

And getting wine all over my living room was never so much fun.

Friday, March 30, 2012

White bean breakfast hash

Fun ways to use leftover beans!

I used this recipe as a starting point. I sauteed the (already cooked) beans in bacon fat and added already-caramelized onions.

2 cups canned or pre-cooked white beans
Bacon fat
1 sliced onion, cooked for a long time in a little bacon fat over low heat until sweet and dark brown
2 eggs

Caramelize the onion by cooking it down, slowly and over low heat, in a little bacon fat. When the onions are soft and dark brown, turn the heat up, add more bacon fat, and add the beans. Cook for another couple of minutes, long enough to heat the beans through and coat them with bacon-y flavor.

At this point you can fry the two eggs separately, or make a hole in the middle of the hash and cook the eggs in the same pan. I like to fry mine separately and add them on top, then break them open and get the yolk all mixed in with everything.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Yellow Smoke

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? With my home bar in such an advanced state of disrepair, I had to get creative for my dinner party. I pre-batched a bunch of cocktails, using what I had on hand, rather than just giving people open access. I found a recipe that combined mezcal (smoky tequila) with yellow Chartreuse, and at first I was very skeptical. I would never have thought to combine those two things in a million years.

However, it was surprisingly delicious.

1 oz mezcal
1 oz yellow Chartreuse
3/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz OJ

Shake with ice, and strain.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whole baked tilapia with potatoes, fennel, and sausage

The centerpiece of Saturday's dinner party was whole baked tilapia with potatoes, fennel, and two kinds of sausage. One whole fish per person, plus wine. Not including the wine, here's what I spent:

One package of 8 frozen whole tilapia at Sam's Club: $12.78
One bulb of fennel: $2.34
Several potatoes, from a 10-lb bag (cost of 10 lbs: $3 at Aldi): 50 cents?
One package of alligator sausage, the last from our New Orleans trip: $4.99
One package of andouille sausage: $3.99
One 2-lb block of feta at Sam's Club, for the appetizer: $8.79, and I used half, so let's say 4.79
Part of a jar of roasted red peppers: maybe 50 cents
One duck breast, for duck proscuitto, for appetizer: $4.79
Ingredients for dried apricot and pistachio ice cream, for dessert: less than $5, including cream

For a grand total of $39.68. Less than $40, to feed 8 people. Awesome.

Now, on to the fish recipe:

I used this recipe from Saveur as a starting point. I substituted tilapia for the red snapper, and used the same amount of stuff (potatoes, fennel, sausage), only for 8 fish instead of one. I lined two roasting pans with foil, laid four tilapia in each one, and scattered potatoes, fennel, uncooked sausage, and a few lemon slices for good measure around each pan. I threw in a couple of cans of canned clams, with juice, instead of the whole clams. Generous sprinkling of salt, and a drizzle of dry vermouth (since I didn't have any white wine). I roasted for 45 minutes (since there were 8 fish instead of 1).

1 large bulb fennel
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb.  potatoes, in chunks
7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. fresh linguiça or kielbasa, cut into 1⁄4"-thick slices (I added another 1 lb of alligator sausage)
8 cleaned whole tilapia2 lemons, sliced 1⁄2 cup white wine or dry vermouth

2 cans of clams, with juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes until half-cooked and drain.  Heat oven to 475˚.  Line a baking sheet  (or two) with an 18" x 24" sheet of heavy-duty foil. Transfer fish to foil. Stuff cavities of fish with fennel fronds. Roughly slice fennel bulb, and arrange fennel, potatoes, sausages, and clams around fish; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with wine. Put an 18" x 24" piece of foil over top. Crimp edges together to form a packet. 
Roast for 35–40 minutes. Cut into foil; carefully pull back edges.  Serve.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New photos!

You may have noticed some changes to the blog design and to the Facebook profile. These awesome new photos are courtesy of Alexandra Nunes Photography. Enjoy!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Baked feta with roasted red peppers

Roasting feta takes a lot of the tang out of it, and makes it taste much richer and creamier. So essentially you can start with a really cheap-ass block of cheese and make it taste like something amazing, merely by adding heat.

There aren't even any additional ingredients. Take a block of feta, and cut it into large cubes, one for each person. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. Place the blocks in the skillet, add sliced roasted red peppers (I used the jarred kind), and drizzle more olive oil over the top.

That's it. Roast at 400 degrees for, oh, let's say, 10 minutes or so. Until they're hot and beginning to brown.

Serve immediately, with crackers or bread.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Royal Jubilee

Last night's dinner party was a great success. More on that later, though--I have to work a double today.

For now, here's one of the cocktails we had.

1/2 oz Calvados
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz fresh lemon juice

Stir with ice, strain, and drink.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Irish Manhattan

I'm having a dinner party tonight!

I've got a great menu and a crazy bottle of wine to kick things off. But my booze supply is, well, largely depleted. I'm down to the weird stuff, and so we'll be drinking pre-batched cocktails, rather than giving people free rein to the bar. (Free rein to...what exactly? Green chartreuse, cherry eau de vie, some Cointreau, some absinthe?)

We'll kick things off with an Irish Manhattan--a Manhattan made with Irish whiskey.

1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet vermouth
1 maraschino cherry

Stir over ice; garnish with cherry.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Slow-scrambled eggs with duck prosciutto

Have you ever had really dry, crumbly scrambled eggs? Gross, right? They were cooked too fast.

High heat is the enemy of scrambled eggs; the hotter the pan, the faster the eggs will overcook and stick to the pan. If you've ever made scrambled eggs and ended up with more egg stuck to the pan than scrambled, you know what I mean. That wasn't the fault of the pan, it was too much heat.

So how to remedy that? Slow-scramble them, over low heat, and you'll have perfectly creamy eggs every time (without having to add cream).

First, let the eggs get to room temperature.

Whisk them with some salt, pepper, and a little butter. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over low heat. Add the eggs and stir constantly until they just scramble--this could take 15 or 20 minutes. But trust me, it's worth it.

Add slices of duck prosciutto (or regular prosciutto) on top. Feel decadent.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Crockpot spicy bean and corn soup with dumplings

(Insert ode to crockpot here.)

I'll be working for the next few days, with no time to cook--but I've got a fridge full of soup, pasta and salad ready to go. Leading up to Saturday, which will be my first Saturday night off in six months. It seems like such an impossible luxury, I hardly know how to process it. Stay tuned for a dinner party!

2 cans (or the equivalent) red beans, drained
1 14.5 oz can tomatoes, with juice
1 10 oz pkg frozen corn
1 cup sliced carrots
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Broth to float all

Combine everything in your crockpot, with enough broth to make it soupy, and cook on high for 5 hours or low for 10.

For the dumplings:
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg white
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. Add the wet to the dry and stir until just blended. Drop into the soup, cover and cook on high for 20 minutes or low for 30 minutes. Do not lift the lid while cooking.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bread pudding

There are savory bread puddings (kale and mushroom, crab) and there are sweet. This is one of the sweet dessert bread puddings.

1 lb stale bread, cubed (4-5 cups or so)
3/4 cup raisins or Craisins (I used Craisins)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups milk

Scatter the bread over the bottom of a buttered 2-quart casserole dish, and sprinkle the raisins over top. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and spices, and then whisk in the milk. Pour that mixture over the bread, and let sit for 30 minutes, pressing down on the bread periodically.

Place the casserole in a water bath (meaning place it in a larger dish, and pour hot water into the larger dish so that comes about halfway up the sides of the casserole dish) and bake at 350 for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the middle is set. Can be served warm or cold.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wine from my collection: Potel Aviron 2009 Cote de Brouilly

In many states (mine included), it is in fact perfectly legal to take home the remainder of a bottle of wine from a restaurant. (There are rules about how to do it--it has to be corked, sealed inside a bag with the receipt, and I think you have to put it in the trunk--but it's legal.) Lots of people don't know this. I always encourage people to get a bottle if there's more than one person drinking the same wine, because it's more economical, and because you can take the leftovers home.

But every once in a while, you get a person who buys a bottle and then leaves half of it behind.

You know what happens then, right? Your waiter drinks it.

I had a guy buy this bottle, and then leave half of it behind. It was the last table of the night, so I was happy to take that half-bottle with me and give it a good home.

Made from gamay, this Cote de Brouilly is from the Beaujolais section of France. Gamay grapes are a bit lighter and fruitier than pinot noir, but in many ways, this tastes similar to a pinot noir. Strong dried cherry flavors, jammy, with spice notes and a long finish. It will retail for $12-14 a bottle. A great wine with food.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spaghetti carbonara with duck proscuitto

Remember the duck proscuitto? Try spaghetti carbonara with duck proscuitto instead of bacon. It will change your life.

1 lb spaghetti
1/2 duck proscuitto breast, cubed
10 ounces frozen peas (1 package)
4 eggs
1 cup fresh grated parmesan
black pepper

Mix the eggs, parmesan, and pepper in a large bowl. It should have the consistency of thick batter. Add the frozen peas to the cooking spaghetti. When the pasta is done, drain it quickly. Don't linger, as it's good to capture some of the water. Dump the steaming spaghetti and peas into the egg mixture, and agitate well to cook the egg. Add the duck proscuitto. Mix well.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pasta with ricotta and capers

Another really quick pasta dish to throw together.

Reprinted from The Kitchn:

2/3 lb short pasta, whatever shape you like, i like cavatappi
1 large shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon capers (jarred in vinegar)
1  tablespoon  vinegar from caper jar
1  tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth (or veggie broth for a true vegetarian dish)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large spoonful ricotta cheese for each serving

Cook pasta in large pot of salted water. While pasta is cooking, soften shallot and garlic in olive oil in a large pan. Add a bit of salt and pepper. not too much salt since the capers and caper vinegar will add some as well.
Once aromatics are softened, add capers and caper vinegar, broth, and tomato paste. Reduce until you notice that the oil has turned red in the pan. There should be only a little left as it is only meant to glaze the pasta.

Add pasta into pan and coat with the glaze. Put into bowls and top with a scoop of ricotta, with a drizzle of olive oil and pinch of pepper on top of the scoop.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Pasta with butternut squash, sage and pine nuts

Reprinted from

1 medium butternut squash
1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1 pound farfalle pasta
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces high quality Parmesan, shredded or shaved (about a cup total)

Heat the oven to 375°. Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds in the middle cavity. Flip the squash halves upside down and peel them. (Note: The raw squash rind can irritate your hands. If they start to itch or tingle, wear gloves.) Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. Toss with the onion, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Mince about half of the fresh sage leaves and also toss with the squash.

Spread the squash mixture in a thin layer on a large baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes or until the squash is soft.

Heat salted pasta water to boiling and cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain and set aside. As the squash finishes roasting, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided sauté pan. The oil is ready when it pops and sputters. (Don't let it start smoking.) Drop in the rest of the sage leaves and fry for about a minute, or until they begin to just shrivel up.

Remove with a slotted spoon and salt lightly. Crush with the back of a spoon.

Add half the pasta to the pan, along with half the roasted squash mixture. Crumble in half the sage. Cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until the pasta is heated through and getting crispy on some of the edges. Add the pine nuts and cook for another minute. Stir in half the cheese and serve.

(Repeat the last step with the rest of the ingredients. We split it into two because none of our pans are big enough to accommodate the entire recipe. It's very important that you not crowd the pan too much - you want the pasta to really pan-fry, not just steam up.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Duck prosciutto

I made my own duck prosciutto!

Duck prosciutto is like regular prosciutto, made from duck breast. (Duck ham, in other words.) It is the easiest thing in the world to do.

First, wait for your local supermarket to run a sale on duck breasts. I got mine for $4 each.

Rinse and completely pat them dry with paper towels. Place a thick layer of kosher salt in a Pyrex casserole dish; nestle the dried-off duck breasts in the salt, so that they aren't touching each other. Cover completely with more salt. Wrap this in plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.

In 24 hours, take them out of the salt and brush them off. The color and texture will already have changed (darker and firmer, respectively). Wrap each one in cheesecloth, tie with twine, and hang in your refrigerator for two weeks.

That's it. Very little effort for a huge reward--duck prosciutto that would cost you upwards of probably $15 a pound at the store.

Now, you may wonder how you hang something in a fridge, when refrigerators don't come with hooks in the top. I tied my two duck breasts together and draped the twine around a mustard bottle in the door of the fridge, allowing the duck to hang into the door shelf below. That worked pretty well for me.

The best thing to do with duck prosciutto is, of course, eat it all by itself. You can also eat it with cheese, or substitute it in recipes that call for prosciutto. I'll post some ways to use this magical stuff in the next few days.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What to do with stale bread

Another perk of my new job is that I can take home any leftover rolls at the end of the night. The restaurant gets its bread from a famous local bakery, and the bread basket for every table includes bread of three different varieties: rolls, sourdough, and multigrain. The bread tends to go stale quickly, so they just throw out whatever's leftover at the end of the night. So, rather than see good bread go to waste, I take some home with me.

There are all kinds of uses for stale bread:

1. Toast the rolls and use them for sandwiches. (My favorite.)
2. Slice the rolls thinly and use for French toast.
3. Croutons.
4. Ribolitta.
5. Bread pudding. (The savory, crab or sweet dessert variety.)
6. Bread crumbs. (Just whiz the stale bread in your food processor and store in a Ziploc bag. Store-bought bread crumbs mixtures are mostly sawdust, anyway.)
7. Stuffing
8. Panzanella, winter or summer variety.
9. Mini-pizzas.

I may not have to make my own bread for a long time, at this rate.

Microgreens salad

My container garden of herbs is just starting to bloom. Thanks to my restaurant, I was able to add a tray of curly kale microgreens to the haul. They've been growing their own microgreens in  the basement (kale, beets, basil, all kinds of things) to use as garnishes, and the brunch manager gave me a tray to grow on my own. The curly kale came up beautifully, and I harvested it the other day.

Since I have no real need for fancy garnishes, I trimmed my other herbs and made a microgreens salad.

If you have access to microgreens, either growing your own or buying them in the supermarket, I highly recommend this. Because the greens are so small, there's a lot of flavor.

Don't pour a heavy salad dressing all over this; drizzle a little olive oil, a little fresh lemon juice, and some salt into the bowl and massage the dressing into the greens. Serve with something light and refreshing: a piece of fish, maybe, or a frittata.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bourbon pecan pie

I haven't had a great deal of success with pecan pies in the past. But when I was invited to a pie party this week, I decided to give it another shot.

Warning: this is not a sweet pie. The molasses and bourbon give it a really sort of dark flavor. That's not a bad thing, and it is delicious in its own right. But if you want a sweet pie, cut back on the molasses and add more sugar.

1 pie crust
3/4 cup blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup bourbon
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Put the molasses, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and salt into a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved; turn up to high and let boil 1  minute. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggs, bourbon and vanilla into the cooled molasses mixture. Stir in the pecans, and pour into the pie shell. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until not wobbly in the middle. Let cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cauliflower curry

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking:

1 head of cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large apple, peeled, cored and diced
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced (okay if you don't have this)
2 jalapenos or other hot peppers, seeded and sliced (or two tablespoons jalapeno pesto)
2 medium onions
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1/2 cup broth
1 small package frozen peas

Boil the cauliflower for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and add the potatoes; boil those for 5 minutes.

In a food processor, puree the apple, garlic, ginger, and jalapenos together. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven and saute the onions with the pureed apple mixture until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the curry powder and flour, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and broth along with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, add back the cauliflower and potatoes, lower the heat to medium, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the peas and cook for 3 minutes. Serve with hot cooked rice.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Zucchini and jalapeno breakfast casserole

Another quick, easy and flavorful dish! Adapted from this recipe for zucchini and green chile breakfast casserole.

1 medium or 3 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1-2 teaspoons olive oil for sauteing zucchini and chiles
1 teaspoon each chili powder and cayenne
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup jalapeno pesto
10 eggs, beaten well
1 tablespoon cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray 7X11 inch or 8X8 inch casserole pan with nonstick spray or olive oil.

Put olive oil into nonstick saute pan and saute zucchini and green pepper over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, with seasonings and salt and pepper. Then add jalapeno pesto and saute another 1-2 minutes.

Layer zucchini mixture, cilantro and cheese into casserole dish. Beat eggs with cream or milk and pour over other ingredients. Use a fork to gently stir so that zucchini and cheese is evenly distributed in the egg mixture.

Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until mixture is set and top is nicely browned.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Green bean and mushroom stir-fry

Because sometimes you just want to eat something covered in soy sauce, you know?

This has the added benefit of being fast, easy, and flavorful. You can use frozen green beans (I did), and a big skillet if you don't have a wok. Serve over rice.

1 bag frozen green beans
1 tub button mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger (optional)
Peanut or sesame oil
Soy sauce
Oyster sauce (if you don't have oyster sauce, you can fake it with fish sauce mixed with a little extra soy sauce)

Get the oil (2 tablespoons or so) piping hot. Add the onion and cook until almost soft. Add the garlic and ginger, then the mushrooms. Cook over medium until the mushrooms start to sweat, then turn the heat up and add the frozen green beans. Once they've thawed, add soy sauce and oyster sauce to taste. Keep stirring until the green beans are cooked through.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wine from my collection: 2008 Domaine Maume Bourgogne

I'm starting a new restaurant job soon; one that will be like working in the Harvard of restaurants. There is an intense training program, and I'll be expected to learn everything about the menu and the wines. I've already discovered that everything I thought I knew about restaurant service is wrong. Working at this place will be incredibly rewarding, but also incredibly challenging.

One of the good things about this new job is that I'll be able to purchase their wines at cost. That means I can work my way down the long wine list, and call it a tax-deductible business expense. First up: 2008 Domaine Maume Bourgogne.

I know a lot about New World wines (US, Argentina, New Zealand) but very little about Old World wines (anything in Europe), and this wine list is all Old World, primarily France and Italy. This wine was produced in the Burgundy region of France--the Bourgogne AOC part of Burgundy, specifically--and is made from pinot noir grapes.

So basically it's an Old World pinot noir, and a delicious one at that. Rock on. I paid $20 at cost, which means it would retail for probably $30, maybe a little less. It has a really bright cherry aroma, with warm notes of pepper, nutmeg, and jammy dried fruits on the tongue. Give it a few minutes after pouring to let it open up. An excellent wine to drink by itself, or to pair with dinner.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Crockpot sloppy lentils (a.k.a. vegetarian sloppy joes)

I don't know if you saw this article on the fact that 70% of supermarket ground beef contains pink slime; pink slime being ammonia-treated sludge, which takes otherwise unusable cow parts and renders them sort of edible. If you count washing things in bleach as making them edible.

Findings like this are why I don't buy supermarket ground beef anymore--that, and it doesn't taste very good.

That means I don't eat a lot of ground beef, which is fine with me. If you choose to cut back on your ground beef intake, there are plenty of substitutions--the obvious, like ground turkey and ground pork, and the less obvious, like this vegetarian version of sloppy joes made with lentils.

Even better, it's made in a crockpot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups lentils
1 14.5 oz can tomatoes with juice
3 cups water or broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Saute the onion and pepper in the olive oil in a skillet until soft. Add the chili powder, stir to coat, and transfer the mixture to a crockpot. Add the rest, cover and cook on low for 6-8  hours. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on hamburger buns, maybe with cole slaw.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zucchini and ricotta tart with potato crust

After a snowstorm last week, it's 65 degrees now. I'm hoping that was the last gasp of (our admittedly non- ) winter, and that spring is here. I'm ready for some spring vegetables!

Found some zucchini on sale, so I made this in anticipation of spring.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large potato, grated
2 zucchini, sliced
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
Italian seasoning

Coat a pie pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Squeeze the excess water out of the grated potato, and press into the pie pan to form a thin crust. Bake at 400 until crispy, 30 - 40 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375.
Meanwhile, saute the zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until just soft. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Mix together the ricotta, cream and eggs; add the zucchini and combine. Pour into the prepared crust and bake at 375 until set but still slightly jiggly in the middle, 20 - 30 minutes. Remove and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

White bean soup with crispy proscuitto

The crispy proscuitto is definitely the winning part of this dish.

After all, bean soup is bean soup is bean soup. Right?

Confession: I made way too much crispy proscuitto for this recipe, accidentally-on-purpose, then ate the rest like they were potato chips.

I got the recipe from Shutterbean:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
4 large sage leaves, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, drained and  rinsed
kosher salt
8 thin slices prosciutto (I used 7 big slices)
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more as needed

In a large (8 quart) pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they turn translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and continue to cook until they soften slightly, 10 minutes. Add the sage, garlic, and bay leaf and continue to cook for 2 more minutes, until aromatic.

Add the stock and beans and 2 teaspoons of salt and fresh ground pepper. Increase heat to medium high and bring soup to a boil. Then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered until the vegetables are completely soft and have started to break down, 45 to 1 hour.

Meanwhile position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350F.

Brush both sides of the prosciutto with olive oil and place each piece on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until they are slightly darker and wrinkly, 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool and they will crisp even more while cooling. Break into shards and set aside.

Finish the soup by removing the bay leaf and puree the soup with an immersion blender (or a food processor/blender in various batches). Stir in the lemon juice and add more if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. To serve, divide soup among bowls and stop with the crisped prosciutto.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thai whole baked tilapia

When confronted with the choice to buy either fillets or whole fish, I usually go for the whole fish. A) it's cheaper, B) you can use the scraps to make stock, and C) any meat cooked on the bone will be more flavorful, fish included. Fillets by comparison are far more expensive by pound, and dry out so much faster.

So I picked up some whole tilapia the other day, and decided to do something Thai-ish.

First I thawed two fish, and sliced three vents into the side of each. Then I made a marinade:

1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice

Line a baking sheet with a big piece of aluminum foil, and lay the fish on that, cut side up. I poured half the marinade over the fish, and pulled the foil up to make a sealed tent over the fish. (Don't let the foil touch the top if possible.)

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until the flesh inside the vents is opaque. Remove from the oven, open the foil, and pour the rest of the marinade over the fish.

Broil for another 5 - 8 minutes, or until the top part is blackened. Serve with fresh cilantro and lemon or lime wedges.

To eat, remove the top layer of skin, and grab the head and pull. The head, spine and tail will all come off in one piece. Eat or remove the top layer of fish, down to the layer of bones in the middle. Remove the bones, and eat or remove the bottom layer of fish from the skin. Use the skin and bones to make a fish stock to use in seafood soups.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dried apricot and pistachio ice cream

Warning: if you use a sweet wine with this, it will be super sweet. Use a dry white wine, and if the final result is still too sweet, use salted pistachios at the end.

From The Perfect Scoop:

5 ounces dried pricots, quartered
3/4 cup white wine, dry or sweet
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachio nuts –
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups half-and-half – you can use 1 cup milk, 1 cup cream
A few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, warm the apricot pieces in the wine. Simmer for 5 minutes, cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 1 hour. Coarsely chop the pistachio nuts.

Puree the apricots with the wine in a blender with the sugar, half-and-half, and lemon juice until smooth.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the chopped pistachio nuts.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Whiskey cake

Yes, whiskey cake. Cake soaked in whiskey syrup. Doesn't that sound like the most awesome thing ever?

From the New York Times:

8 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering pan
Fine dry bread crumbs for dusting pan (I used flour)
1 3/4 cups sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup bourbon (I used a combination of bourbon and rye)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt pan and dust with bread crumbs. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter, 1 1/4 cups sugar and lemon zest until fluffy and fragrant. Beat in vanilla and 2 eggs. Add remaining eggs. Beat again.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add half the mixture to the batter and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add remaining mixture and mix again until almost smooth; the rest must be done by hand using a spatula.

Scrape the batter into the bundt pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar with 1/3 cup water in a saucepan. Boil until bubbles grow small and make fine snapping sounds, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Stir in the whiskey.

When the cake is done, let it cool for a few minutes. Unmold onto a serving plate with a lip. (The whiskey may pool at the base.) Pierce the top of the cake in about 20 places with a skewer, then pour the whiskey syrup over it. Once the cake is cool, cover with plastic wrap. This cake is best served the next day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Crockpot minestrone

Can you tell I've been busy lately? I love my crockpot!

I also have a new job--one that will involve a hefty commute, and a lot of hard work and training, but I'm excited. It's the next step in this new restaurant career. But I'll be working more than usual in the coming weeks, so I suspect my crockpot will get even more use.

Crockpot minestrone is less an actual recipe than a repository of whatever you have on hand. Don't have green beans? Use peas or greens or frozen spinach instead. Don't have zucchini? Leave it out. And so on.

1 onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Two handfuls of frozen green beans
1 1/2 cups pre-cooked white beans (or 1 can)
1 14.5 oz can tomatoes, with juice (or the equivalent amount of spaghetti sauce)
1 zucchini, chopped
6 cups broth
Cooked pasta

Put 1 tablespoon olive oil, along with the onion, celery, carrot and garlic, into the crockpot. Cover and set on High while prepping everything else. Add everything else (except the cooked pasta and pesto) and cook on Low for  7-8 hours.

Add in some cooked pasta, maybe a couple of handfuls, and swirl in a spoonful of pesto. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What to do when your refrigerator is full

I did my grocery shopping for the month the other day, and now my refrigerator (and freezer) are jammed full.

Note: picture is not of my actual refrigerator.

In a way, this is good. Full appliances work better. A full refrigerator/freezer will cool much more effectively than a half-empty one. (Ditto with your washer/dryer and dishwasher; they're engineered to work at full capacity. If you're not running full loads, you're just wasting detergent/water/energy.)

But it's bad, because now I have to shift 47 things to get to the one thing in the back.

So what to do when it's that full?

Take some stuff out. Not everything has to be refrigerated.

These things can live outside your refrigerator:

Onions, garlic and potatoes
Winter squash
All fruits, even cut fruits (perishable ones like berries will only last a day or two outside the fridge, but you're not buying berries in March anyway, right?)
Ditto most vegetables (they'll last longer inside the fridge, but a day or two outside won't hurt anything--in fact, you shouldn't ever put tomatoes inside the fridge anyway, as it will stop the ripening process)
Carrots and other root vegetables, like turnips and parsnips
Lemons and limes (though they'll last longer inside)
Cheese (really)
Butter (really)
Most condiments, including ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, jellies and jams, syrup, and all that random stuff in the door
Beer/sodas (this time of year, you can keep them outside and they'll be the perfect temperature)
Water (I keep my Brita filter on the counter when I need the room, I can always add ice if I want cold water as opposed to room temperature water)

Most people will balk at the idea of keeping cheese and butter on the counter, and granted, you can only do this with real cheese and real butter--do not attempt with Kraft singles and margarine. But I keep my butter in a butter dish by the stove, and it will last at room temperature almost indefinitely. Ditto cheese. By virtue of what it is, cheese has already gone bad. A little more won't hurt it. And cheese actually tastes better at room temperature, than when it's cold.

That way, you can save precious fridge real estate for the stuff you actually do need to keep refrigerated--meat, eggs, milk and cream, broth, and leftovers.

A lot of the above can be frozen, instead of refrigerated: milk, cheese and butter can all be frozen for future use, as can broth and juice, and stuff like spaghetti sauce. Of course, if your freezer is full as well (like mine), then that's an excellent excuse to eat all the ice cream. To make room.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Short ribs

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I don't eat a lot of "centerpiece" meat. By that I mean I keep costs down by using meat as a flavoring rather than as an entree. My shopping list usually consists of bacon and various kinds of sausage, with the occasional whole chicken or fish; very rarely does red meat show up. (Not because I have anything against red meat, just that it's expensive.)

But Sam's Club was running a half-off special on short ribs the other day, so I picked some up. Short ribs are the ends of the ribs; there's a lot of fat and connective tissue, so the best way to cook them is low and slow, to allow the fat and tissue to break down. Then you get incredibly rich, moist beef. (Which, frankly, is tastier than most steak, since most steak lacks decent marbling.)

3 lbs short ribs
1 onion, chopped
1 cup each carrots and celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups broth
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Start by heating some bacon fat or olive oil in a Dutch oven, and sear the short ribs on all sides. Remove from the pan and add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic and shallot. Cook until tender; add the bay leaves, broth and seasonings, and add the short ribs back in. Cover and cook at 350 degrees for 2 hours.

For an added layer of flavor, once the ribs are done braising, remove them from the Dutch oven and place on a roasting rack. Increase the oven to 450, and roast the ribs for 10 minutes or so, to give them a nice sear on the outside.

The liquids can be reduced down to make a yummy sauce for potatoes.