Friday, October 29, 2010

Cookbook Club-The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook

Matt and Tedd Lee, wow!  Cookbook club last night was fantastic.  We cooked from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook and in a few words, it rocked.  This is the first book from the quirky and cute Lee brothers, James Beard award winning as a matter of fact.  They draw on their Charleston, S.C. roots and their urban lifestyle in Manhattan to create a cookbook that is as much about their musings as it is about the recipes.  This is the kind of cookbook you read cover to cover, transporting yourself to the deep south and tasting deliciousness on every page. 

We were a smaller than usual group at Emily's last night but managed to leave with our belly's more than satisfied.  Kelly kicked the night off with three tasty nibblers that set the mood perfectly.  She made Spiced Pecans (utterly addictive), Cheese Straws (buttery with a perfect kick of heat), and Pickled Shrimp (the *best* pickling spices ever).  She presented them together-don't they look great?

Emily not only hosted us but she made three dishes as well!  The first was Crispy Fried Okra-these were amazing-the kind of amazing you need to walk away from or you'll eat the entire dish.  

For dinner, Emily pulled out the stops with the Oven BBQed Picnic (pork) Shoulder that you could cut with a fork-molasses, vinegar, and smoked paprika made for sauce perfection.  She served it with Hot Slaw a la Greyhound Grill-really more like braised red cabbage but the perfect crunchy bite with that succulent pork.    CC rounded out the meal with the classic Hoppin' John.  Made with homemade pork stock, the simple combination of ingredients has such depth of flavor-I can see eating this dish as a meal on its own. 

I took on dessert and made the Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.  This version had not only cocoa and plenty of red food coloring but a tablespoon of fresh orange zest too.  I'm generally not a fan of chocolate and citrus together but the chocolate flavor is so mild here it really lets the orange do its thing.  I promise I have a pre-cut picture of this cake that is much better than this one (it was quite beautiful, if I may so so myself)...I'll get it up here soon.

All in all we loved every dish.  The recipes worked perfectly and we found very little we would change (and trust me, we are a critical group).  Thank you Matt and Ted.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Whether it's Giant's Fever or Halloween excitement, it's decidedly fall. 

In honor of tonight's pitcher, Tim Lincecum, I'm passing on the LA Times' recipes for hash.  OK, not that hash!  I'm talking crispy, crunchy, greasy, and dripping with a fried egg kind of hash.  Not just your old fashioned Blue Plate Special version of hash either-the Times has versions that will have your breakfast or dinner plate smiling back at you.  Think Curried Pork and AppleSmoked SalmonRoast BeefChicken with Chile and Chorizo, and Autumn Vegetable.  

This morning on our local NPR station, KQED, Mark Bittman was interviewed for an hour, talking about The Food Matters Cookbook and all things food.  As you know, I love the guy.  I think his straight-forward approach to food and cooking is pragmatic and spot-on (I even wrote into the show and told him so-they read my letter on the air...ah, blush).   In today's NY Times that simple cooking philosophy manifests itself in his recipe for Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi.  I've made a version of these before and they could not be easier.  They don't require much prep and come out much lighter than their potato-heavy cousins.  Look for good ricotta-I like the "hand dipped" version at my local market, it's not watery and has a lovely flavor.  You can serve these with simple browned butter or even toss them gently with diced roasted squash and fresh sage.  If you want step-by-step directions, you can watch Mark make them here. 

I found this recipe for Warm Lentil Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Maple Vinaigrette in today's Washington Post.  Not only does it look very appropriate for Halloween (or the Giant's game) but it's made from lots of pantry staples and I do love recipes that don't have me running to the store.  The sweet potatoes are baked and could absolutely be swapped out with roasted butternut squash.  The vinaigrette is simply Dijon, apple cider vinegar, chives, nutmeg, and a little olive oil-you surely have most of this at home right now-who knew they'd be so tasty all together?  

Happy late October and may your baseball dreams come true and your candy buckets be filled with all your favorite treats.  Happy Reading and Happy Cooking! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not Your Average Roasted Autumn Veggies-So Very Good!

I pulled my inspiration for this recipe from Food & Wine magazine one year ago (you can find it here).  It is Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mushrooms, Potatoes, and Sausage and topped with a Perfectly Fried Egg.  It reminiscent of a hash but I made it for dinner and not breakfast.  It turned out so incredibly delicious that I'd eat it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. 

It begins like this-a simple rough chop of all the veggies plus walnut-sized pieces of sausage.  Use a roasting pan or sheet pan, toss in some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put in a screaming hot oven.  Here's what it looks like before it is cooked:

Flash-forward about 30 minutes, turning just once or twice, and pull out the pan.  Shave a few ounces of Manchego cheese over the top (or whatever nutty cheese you have around) and put it back in the oven for a couple minutes longer.  When it comes out it will have transformed to this:

In the last few minutes, while the cheese is melting, fry up some eggs to your liking (I think the dish deserves a runny yolk but that's your call).   When you plate it up, here's what you'll have:

I am generally not a big Brussels Sprouts fan but I couldn't get enough in this dish.  The high heat roasting caramelizes the veggies so they have both fantastic texture and flavor.  The egg just gilds the lily but of course you could do without.  I can't recommend it enough.  I'm actually looking forward to leftovers tonight (this from a girl who doesn't generally like leftover anything).

Roasted Autumn Veggies with Sausage and Egg

1 pound Brussels Sprouts, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large)
1 pound fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise (or quartered if large)
1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered (I used cremini but shitake caps, oyster, or button would all work too)
2 sausages, 1/2-3/4 pound (uncooked), casings removed and meat broken into walnut sized pieces (I recommend sweet or spicy Italian, chorizo, andouille, or what ever you like)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Manchego cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler into thin strips (or coarsely grated)
1 tbs butter
4 eggs
1 tbs chopped Italian parsley, if desired, as garnish
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the sprouts, potatoes, mushrooms, sausage pieces, olive oil, and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper on a roasting pan or sheet pan and toss well.  Spread everything out in one layer.  This can be done a few hours ahead of time and put in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook.

Roast the veggies until tender when pierced with a sharp knife and golden brown, about 30 minutes, stirring just once or twice.  Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the cheese over the top, stir to combine, and continue roasting until the cheese is melted, 4-5 minutes more.
Meanwhile, just before the vegetables are done cooking, heat the butter in a large non-stick saute pan over medium heat.  Fry the eggs in the pan to your desired doneness, sprinkling them with salt and pepper.

To serve, spoon the roasted vegetables into large shallow soup bowls.  Top each with a fried egg and sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Serves 4

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Those chocolate chip cookies are long gone and the cold has definitely set in.  Rain is coming and there is no longer any denying it, hello fall!

Spicy Cherry Chocolate Brownies...good morning!  Just when you thought no one could reinvent the brownie or improve on it any other way, the Los Angeles Times brings you this kicked up version.  Dried cherries meet cayenne pepper in this unexpected but well balanced grown-up brownie.  The recipe is part of an article by Katherine Nitsou on the combination of sweet and spicy in desserts.   Rosemary Marshmallow Treats and Tangerine Thyme Chocolate Cookies anyone? 

If you've ever eaten Moroccan food you've probably enjoyed the fragrant flavor of preserved lemon.  The pickled citrus, packed in a brine solution, uses all parts of the lemon but it gets incredibly tender, loosing its bitterness at it ages.  Problem is, they're difficult to find at a market and making them means thinking weeks ahead as they need a long time to "ripen".  Until now, thanks to Mark Bittman in the New York Times and his recipe for Quick "Preserved" Lemons.  Mark's recipe doesn't truly preserve the lemons (they keep about a week, as opposed to months and months) but they are actually ready to use within three hours, which is a huge bonus.  He shortens the process by dicing up the lemons instead of preserving them whole.  Be sure to use organic lemons as they wont have the waxy skin you find with the conventional varieties.  Once finished you can use your lemons in any braised dish but I particularly like them with lamb or chicken.

(Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle)

Ahhh, chicken picatta.  I know it's not a true Italian dish but the combination of butter, capers, and lemon works for me anytime.  We ate it as kids over pasta and I think I've loved it ever since.  In the San Francisco Chronicle Marlene Sorosky Gray writes about the dish, be it with chicken, soul, duck, or trout.  It's one of those go-to dishes when 6pm is staring you in the face and you have no idea what's for dinner.  Capers and lemons are pantry staples and hopefully you picked up some kind of protein at the market this week (I think you could even use firm pressed tofu here).  Her method for the Classic Chicken Picatta  takes about 10 minutes to make.  Be sure to have your chicken breasts pounded out nice and thin (I do this myself, to vent my end of day frustrations, but your favorite butcher can do it for you too).  Look how beautiful it is?   

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Because It's Just That Kind of Day

Some mornings just cry out for warm chocolate chip cookies.  I adore this recipe, originally from Cook's Illustrated for many reasons.  First off, you don't need to bring your butter to room temp because you just melt it.  Second, the texture of these cookies is soft and chewy and it stays that way even after they cool (although I dare you not to take a bite right you can see above, I couldn't wait).

I took a few liberties with the recipe.  Inspired by my friend Kelly, I sprinkled the cookies with coarse sea salt before they go into the oven.  I love the way it balances out the sweetness and adds a tiny bit of crunch every few bites.   I also decided to infuse my butter with vanilla bean instead of adding just extract (truth be told, I was out of vanilla extract today and did happen to have a bean).  I scraped the seeds into the butter as it melted, threw in the pod, and let it steep for about 15 minutes (straining it before I added it to the sugar).  Due to a happy accident, the butter was on the heat about 3 minutes longer than I'd planned and it began to brown.   I went with it, loving brown butter, and this batch of cookies was even better than usual.  The folks over at did the same thing with their butter when they made this recipe (but on purpose).  Finally, I was low on chocolate chips but had a few bars of semi-sweet chocolate in the ol' baking box.  I chopped 'em up and added them instead.  It all added up to one damn good cookie!  Here she is close up:

Next time you reach for your Toll House chips and intend to follow that recipe on the back of the bag, give this recipe a try instead.  Let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I'm Reading Today


Beer Baked Mac-n-Cheese?  It's breakfast time and this still sounds amazing.  Today's LA Times hunts down the recipe from Rackhouse Tavern in Denver so you can create the magic in your own kitchen.  Five kinds of cheese, a cup of beer in the sauce, and a dusting of crunchy panko...this is definitely not your mom's mac-n-cheese (in fact, I don't think it's the kids mac-n-cheese either). 

When the guilt kicks in from your over-the-top mac-n-cheese, The New York Times comes to the rescue.  This Provencal Tomato and Basil Soup, thickened with a bit of rice or tapioca, can be made with your late season fresh tomatoes or even your favorite brand from the can.  One optional ingredient, which you should try to have around, is the rind from a wedge of Parmigiano.  Never throw these away! They add a lovely depth of flavor to soups and stews and the punch it will give to this recipe will take it well beyond other tomato soups you've had before.  

Much like dolmas (but easier when the chard doesn't need to cook for hours like grape leaves do) these Bulgar and Beef Stuffed Swiss Chard Rolls from today's Washington Post would be a wonderful dinner, appetizer, or lunch box treat.  They're a bit laborious but how fantastic do they look?  I can only imagine how they taste!  I think I'd serve mine with a little yogurt/cucumber sauce on the side for dipping or drizzling.  Warm or room temp, this little package of goodness will have you eating your greens in no time.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Hope the beginning of fall is treating you well. 

When my friend Tori was last in L.A. she told me about an amazing dinner she had at Little Dom's in Los Feliz.  I don't know if she tried the fruit foccacia but, wow, how good does it look?  Today the LA Times nabbed the recipe and here it is for you to make at home.   Individual rounds of pillowy soft foccacia topped with berries, sugar, and rosemary.  This sounds like the perfect breakfast to early do I need to get up to have this tomorrow morning with my coffee? 

Although the sun in still shining bright in SF, it definitely feels like fall.  Days are getting shorter and pumpkins are everywhere.  It's the right time to get yourself a fresh pumpkin, and not just for carving.  Today's Baltimore Sun has three seasonal recipes to use your favorite variety (they like the "baby" and the "spooky").  Did you know pumpkins are packed with vitamins (A, B, and C) and full of beta carotene?  So whether its fresh pumpkins baked Afghan style (think cinnamon, yogurt, and garlic) or roasted in risotto, you'll find fall on your plate and feel good about it.  Check out all the recipes here

The San Francisco Chronicle has a lovely recipe gallery packed with vegetarian recipes.  So many things looked delish but I was particularly taken with this dish: Red Quinoa with Chickpeas, Spinach, and Egg.  Granted, I love anything with an egg on top but I'm also a huge fan of one dish meals.  I always have quinoa in my pantry (ok, not red quinoa but I think the traditional variety would work fine here too) along with canned chickpeas.  Eggs?  Check.  Spinach?  Check.  Dinner tonight?  Check, Check.  Yum!

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Braising and Lamb

I generally think of braised lamb as a spring dish, studded with fava beans or fresh English peas.  Of course there are plenty of cold weather recipes for braising as well, it really is my favorite cooking method.  Yesterday, being Sunday and feeling very much like Fall, it was a braising kind of day so lamb it was.

Braising is one of those cooking techniques that you can easily master, freeing yourself from recipes altogether.  It's important to choose the right cut of meat.  The slow and low cooking screams out for those tougher cuts.  You know the ones, usually cheaper at the butcher and marbled with plenty of fat.  The reason these cuts work so well is that the long cooking in moist heat allows the muscle fibers to breakdown, rendering the meat so tender it should melt in your mouth.  Think shoulder and leg cuts, avoiding tenderloins, lean steaks, and anything you'd normally throw on the grill.  The method below is my way of braising meat.  Use it as a guide for the meats and flavors you like and be creative. 

Lamb has a lovely flavor on its own so matching it with just the right flavors is important.  After breaking down my meat into 1-2 inch pieces, I made a paste in the food processor with a handful of Italian parsley, three cloves of garlic, a hefty pinch of salt, and enough olive oil to give it an almost pesto-like consistency.  I tossed it with the meat and let it marinate for an hour, although several hours would be fine too.  This is definitely an optional step when making a braise but I'll tell you, it is what took my dish out of the park-the flavors were incredible.

I browned the meat well.  Don't be afraid of this part-I think it's what separates killer restaurant dishes from the ones people make at home.  Let the meat cook in one layer without turning too often.  Each side should be dark golden brown and you should see the juices on the bottom of your pan begin to caramelize.  If they get too dark, turn down your heat.  These juices will become the base of your sauce and you don't want them to burn.

Once the meat was done I took it out of the pan and added about 1 1/2 cups sliced fennel, a large leek thinly sliced, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  I cooked it until it was lightly browned then added about two thirds of a bottle of Pinot Gris (Sauvignon Blan or Pinot Grigio would work too).  I deglazed the pan, loosening up all those browned bits with a wooden spatula and letting the wine cook down by about half.  The meat went back in with just enough water to barely cover the meat, it shouldn't be totally submerged.  I brought the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, covered the pot, and let it do its thing.   Of course chicken stock would work well here too.

After a couple hours, stirring occasionally, the meat should be very tender.  I usually just taste a piece but you can also press it gently against the side of the pot and it should begin to fall apart.  At this point the liquid should be reduced by at least half.  If it is not, remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook the liquid down until it begins to thicken, taste it, and season with additional salt and pepper.  There should be just enough liquid to coat all the meat and form a bit of sauce, but it shouldn't be swimming in liquid.  This dish would hold up well if you wanted to make it in advance.  Just cool it down and refrigerate then, before you reheat it, skim any of the fat off the top. 

I served mine with good old fashioned mashed potatoes and some sauteed green beans.  It felt like fall and was as good as a braise gets.

Friday, October 1, 2010

French Fries are Not a Vegetable

Kim Severson, of The New York Times, wrote a must-read article last week titled Told to Eat It's Vegetables, America Orders FriesYou can probably surmise in an instant the soapbox I'm about to jump on, right?  I've thought about this article a lot since I read it.  It's not a shock-we don't eat enough vegetables in this country. The number of people, particularly parents, who categorize French fries as their veggie of choice is, frankly, pathetic.  Really?  French fries?  Next thing you know they'll count the ketchup as another serving. 

I realize I'm entirely privileged when it comes to access to produce.  Living in San Francisco I'm a few short miles away from some of the country's best vegetables. I  can find them not only at the farmers' markets but at my supermarkets as well-local, organic, and fresh.  When veggies are in season the prices are accessible and I don't shy away from spending a healthy portion of my grocery budget getting the best ones I can find.  I realize most people don't have this luxury.  Local produce doesn't exist in their town and vegetables are expensive, especially compared to junk food.  This is a battle being fought all over the US right now-the cost of real food being out of reach to so many. 

But, I don't know that price is always the obstacle.  In Kim's article she talks a lot about the work it takes to prepare vegetables.  People want convenience and when food prep takes time they just wont do it.  Here's where that soapbox comes in...

People-think of all the possible ways to prepare vegetables.  They are easy to cook, a blank canvas for flavors, and fun to play around with when you want to try new things.  What's 20 minutes of time in the kitchen when we're talking about your health, feeding your family, and being smart about what goes into your body?  In 20 minutes you can prep and cook a vegetable stir fry, you can wilt greens for a frittata, you can saute carrots with fresh cilantro and lime, and you can blanch and saute green beans with almonds and browned butter.  Heck, you can even tackle it in 10 minutes-roasting asparagus spears, steaming broccoli, or sauteing strips of bell peppers.   Think about building meals around your veggies instead of relegating them to the side of your plate.  Invest in a new cookbook or two (New Flavors for Vegetables or Cooking from the Farmers' Market would by my suggestions) and get inspired.  Wander the market and let your kids pick out the veggies for a change-they'll be a lot more likely to eat them when they are invested in the preparation.   Make a simple salad with dinner every single night.  It'll fill your belly with good stuff each day. 

Four and a half cups of veggies and fruit a day is the recommendation.  It's not that hard-make it happen.  For you, for your family, and for your health.
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