Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Doctoring the Burger Part Two - Taking It One Step Further

I really have to admire Sir Pickypants, or should I say Sir Skinnypants? He wasn't too happy with his weight last summer, so once we came back from vacation he really began sticking to a workout program. He's lost quite a bit of weight and looks awesome.

I asked him last night what he wanted for dinner. He gave me the stock answer he always gives me when I ask him what he wants, turkey burgers (although spaghetti and meatballs comes a close second). Then he made one more request. He asked for no buns. Buns have too many calories. He had a point. It's not as if I couldn't stand to lose a few pounds myself.

I decided to go with my standard Chipotle Turkey Burger recipe with guacamole and my Roasted Tomato "Ketchup". I make this often and I have blogged about it here. It's my favorite way to make a bland meat like ground turkey taste better. (One would think after we took a few days to finish off that turkey breast that he wouldn't want to see any more turkey.)

I was fine with not using any buns (I need to watch my calories too after all), but I do like to give my burger some kind of "base". I also wanted to add a bit more in the way of vegetables to the meal. I was stumped for an idea. Sometimes I use portobello mushrooms, but that's just so Rachael Ray!

While heading over to the garlic display of Whole Foods, I saw these.

These were green heirloom tomatoes (I know tomatoes are a fruit. Work with me here!) I had an idea. How about I make fried green tomatoes? I've never made them before and they would sit nicely beneath my spicy burgers.

Browsing the store I came up with more inspiration. I found the perfect substance to cook them in (since bacon fat is out of the question).

So much for watching calories!

High calorie or not, this was a great meal. I want my burgers with fried green tomatoes on the side for the rest of my life.

I had never tried fried green tomatoes before. I went online for ideas for a recipe and discovered that there are way too many different ways of making them. In the end, I decided to just bread them like I would a chicken cutlet (using cornmeal instead of breadcrumbs) and frying them in lots of that great fat.

They were crispy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside. We both loved them.

I have lots of use for the leftovers. I am making potatoes with that duck fat sometime soon. I am also going to use the leftover guacamole as a dip for my veggies while I snack at work.

As for the excess fire-roasted tomato ketchup, I think I'll tell you later what I plan to do with it.

My First Fried Green Tomatoes


3 large green heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cornmeal
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup (give or take) duck fat

Set up your breading station with flour in one dish, egg in another, and cornmeal mixed with salt and pepper in the last one.

Dip tomato slices in the flour, then the egg, then the cornmeal, as if you were making chicken cutlets.

Heat the fat in a cast iron pan. You want it to be hot enough that a little flour sprinkled in the pan gives off a sizzle.

Lay tomato slices in hot fat. Cook on one side until nice and brown. Repeat with the other side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Risotto Night

farI'm sure my blog buddies have heard this lament many times. "Waah wah. I live in the northeast and can't get fresh local produce all year because of that inconvenient thing known as winter. Waah wah. Farmer's markets don't open until the middle of summer. WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!"

Of course I'm lying. I'm totally being lazy. There is an indoor farmer's market going on right in my town and it's been open all winter long. It is also open Saturday morning - the biggest stretch of free time I have all week. Yes, I do tend to use that stretch of free time to do errands and laundry and housecleaning, but then agin, it's just a couple of blocks away from my home, so it's not as if I don't have time to run over there and see what they have while the clothes are in the dryer. Most Saturday mornings, I just plain forget that it's there. It's my own fault.

This weekend was different. It was a beautiful warm spring day. My neighborhood was awash with color and flowers and all types of beautiful natural things.

I wanted and needed some fresh produce.

I headed to the church where the market is held. Let's have a look inside.

Don't you just love all that healthful food they sell at farmer's markets?

Eek. It's the pickle man. Stay away from pickle salesmen. You will not be able to resist. (After all, look what happened to Amy Irving in Crossing Delancey).

I'll share some photos of my bounty. I bought mixed greens, giant carrots (which I am obliged to share with my four-legged stinky babies), leeks, fresh eggs, artisinal cheese, and I decided to try something new - pea shoots (yes, you will be rewarded with a recipe once you read through this tedious blog).

There may have been, ummmm..something from one of those many tables of baked goods. Well....maybe a mini pie or two or a cookie or three. I mean, my hubby loves black and whites and I'm a sucker for linzer tarts and all that.

So about those pea shoots. What are they? How do I use? Can I eat anything with the word "pea" in it? Would it taste like peas when cooked?

I decided to incorporate my findings into a nice risotto. Risotto is good with just about everything.

A big green monster on the plate, but pretty tasty. The pea shoots didn't taste too much like peas, although they do have a little of that spinach effect on your teeth.

I'm afraid I didn't measure all the veg, but it doesn't have to be exact. The fun of risotto is playing with your flavors.

Leek, Mushroom, and Pea Shoot Risotto

1.5 cups arborio or other short grain rice
5 cups chicken broth
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil
1-2 leeks
1/2 cup white wine
8 oz. musrhooms, sliced
3-4 cups pea shoots
Copious amounts of parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut leeks in small pieces. Place in a bowl of water and let the grit sink to the bottom. Drain. If you cut the leeks up before you wash them, you don't have to worry so much about getting in between the leaves.
In a small saucepan, bring chicken broth to a simmer and keep warm.
In a large saucepan heat butter and olive oil. Add leeks and cook until soft. Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft.
Add rice and stir to coat. Cook until they appear a bit translucent. Add wine and cook until absorbed.
Add a ladleful of stock and stir frequently until absorbed. Once it has absorbed add another ladleful and stir. Keep adding stock and stirring until it has all absorbed, the rice is tender but still al dente, and the risotto takes on a creamy consistency.
Remove from heat and stir in lots of parmesan. Add salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Feeling Like A Turkey

Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows I have a habit of being "inspired by" or just downright pilfering recipes from other bloggers. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right? I hope other bloggers enjoy seeing how I raped interpreted their recipes.

So a few days ago I took inspiration from Stacey, who made a whole breast last week. I couldn't remember the last time I made a whole turkey breast. They have a lot of advantages. For one thing, they're a lot of food. You can get a lot of milage out of one with all of the leftovers (which is a good thing because whole turkey breasts are EXPENSIVE). For another thing, my husband really likes turkey.

Although I'm finally reducing the amount of herbage in my refrigerator, I did still have lots of leftover thyme. I used this to my advantage with the turkey.
No need to use a recipe here. I just mooshed up the thyme with some butter and stuffed it under the skin.
Next I put the breast on a roasting rack. I poured some white wine and chicken stock into the pan. I cooked the breast at 375, frequently basting it with the wine/broth mixture.

I served it with Ree's Crash Hot Potatoes. I've wanted to make these forever, but again, it was Stacey who gave me the nudge.

I used yukon gold potatoes as Sir Pickypants isn't so fond of red ones. I made roasted cauliflower without really thinking about how my meal would look in a photgraph. As a result, I came up with a meal that was rather startlingly beige.

I had lots of leftovers for sanwiches. This is a nice turkey sandwich on a challah roll with a fruity mustard I made by mixing dijon with a little preserves. I have enough turkey left over for sandwiches for a week. At $35 a pop I had better have a week's worth of sandwiches!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Still Using Up Those Herbs

Not all of my leftover herbs made it into my pesto last week. I still have some left, so this week is my week to figure out what to do with it all.

Tonight I decided to do a simple, classic recipe with the leftover tarragon I still had hanging out. I'm glad I used it tonight because it really wasn't going to last any longer.

Tonight's dinner had to be a fairly quick one. You see, I was summoned for jury duty today. Not only was it jury duty, it was federal court. That meant I had to shlep to the city. That was no fun considering that after a beautiful spring weekend, New York has firmly planted its feet back in winter. I was fighting rain and what even looked like a little sleet as I came off the subway. Once I arrived at home this evening, I was far too grumpy to make anything complicated.

What could be easier than chicken breasts in a nice pan sauce with a little cream? I had everything I needed for a nice sauce, so all I had to do was buy the chicken. I had cream, tarragon, mustard and wine. One thing I've learned on my cooking journeys is that fewer ingredients can make for a better dish (Take that FN cooks!). I really didn't need anything else.

I never said it was pretty. Any reader of my blog knows that cooking pretty has never been one of my strong points. Garlic roasted broccoli was on the side.

Chicken Breasts In Mustard Tarragon Cream Sauce

1-2 pounds chicken breasts, pounded fairly thin
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbl chopped fresh tarragon
3 Tbl dijon mustard
1/2 cup cream (I used half and half)
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl butter
Flour for dredging

Dredge chicken breasts in flour seasoned with the salt and pepper. Heat olive oil and butter in pan and brown chicken breasts well over medium heat on both sides. Remove to a plate.

Mix together mustard and cream.

Add white wine to pan and deglaze. Get up all those great brown bits. Allow to reduce down a bit. Now add the mustard, cream, and tarragon. Taste to see if it needs additional salt and pepper. Put chicken back into pan and cook until heated through. Be careful and don't cook so long the cream separates as it did for me here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The New Kid In Town Part 3 - Ginban Asian Bistro

The economy hasn't recovered yet, but my neighborhood continues its efforts to make itself a dining destination. I have mentioned in the past that we have not one, but three new Asian fusion restaurants all within walking distance of my home. Last night I had a big bug up my butt to try one. There were two of the three that I hadn't tried yet. I chose the one where I could actually get seating. These places are popular!

We arrived around 8:30, which is a little past prime dinner hour in this area, but the street was hopping on a warm Saturday night. Every restaurant on the block was crowded. The Ginban hostess was taking one of her seemingly frequent smoke breaks when we showed up, but she put the ciggie out pretty quickly and came inside to seat us when we went through the door.

Ginban is one of those painfully hip restaurants. You walk in and see the bar and sushi bar all lit with this funky lighting. The other side of the restaurant is slightly more sedate.

We were seated at the only table available, right inside the window. As it was a warm night, the doors were wide open. Kevin was a little annoyed by the draft. We ended up switching places at one point.

We received our menus right away, but it took a while for someone to take our drink order. The slowness was not an issue at first. The menu is massive. I really needed time to puruse it.

There were two pages of appetizers, four pages of sushi and sashimi specials, and two pages of kitchen entrees.

We finally made up our minds, but a server was nowhere to be seen. We hadn't even received our drinks yet.

The drinks finally did arrive after we complained, which was some time around when the server came to take our dinner order. What Asian meal is complete without a fruity cocktail? Kevin had the Mai Tai. I had something called a melon cooler. There was definitely some melon in here, but it was mostly voooooooooddddddddkkkkkkkaaaaaaa.

The soup (his) and salad (mine) that came with our meals came before the appetizers. He had miso. I had this salad that consisted of mixed greens, mango, and a little fried thing on top that tasted like a cross between a fried wonton skin and a shrimp toast. The dressing was not your standard Japanese-restaurant ginger dressing. It was a nice fruity dressing. Good salad. I'm feeling a little less angry about the service.

Since I was eating at a new restaurant, I wanted to try something that I couldn't get anywhere else. I ordered something called Red Oil Dumplings. It turned out they were unavailable. Kevin had the shumai pictured above. I ended up getting vegetable dumplings, which the server recommended.

I'm not sure I've ever had dumplings this green. Taste wise they were good, but not terribly different from other veggie dumplings I've had. Kevin was quite pleased with his shu mai. The slow service was getting his mood riled up, so these really placated him.

Our entree arrived in reasonable time. Kevin had shrimp, scallops and chicken in sambal sauce. He was a little surprised at the spiciness of them, but quite enjoyed it.

I had the ginger duck. There were quite a lot of interesting flavors happening on the plate. There were funky tiny mushrooms, green noodles, and little duck spring rolls in addition to the actual slices of duck.

The duck skin could have been crispier, but the duck meat itself was tender and not dry at all. The flavors of ginger permeated everything on this dish nicely, so I don't think the dish really needed the addition of the sweet ginger sauce on top, but it wasn't bad.

When we were finished they were far faster with the check than they were taking our orders. Our check went down on the table as soon as they brought our boxed-up leftovers. It was immediately snapped up when the credit card was laid down. There were no offers of dessert. I don't know if they even served any.

My verdict on Ginban is that the food is pretty good, but the service needs work. They have been open a few months now and should have worked out the kinks better. Fortunately they deliver. If I'm in the mood for ginger duck or want to try my luck with the red oil dumplings again, I might be better off calling and asking Ginban to bring them to my apartment.

When I came home last night all the vodka in my drink was finally kicking in. I headed straight for my bed when I walked in the door and declared, "I think I'm a little drunk." I suppose that's another reason why I'm better off with delivery. I can't order a fruity cocktail delivered!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Random Acts of Pesto

I was stuck with a lot of excess herbage in my refrigerator this week. I bought a few different fresh herbs for Easter and other miscellaneous meals, such as buying mint to make Cathy's soba noodle recipe. I had far more herbs than I could easily use before they expired, so it was time (or should I say "thyme"? ha ha) to use them all up.

I wanted to make some kind of sauce out of them, although I also contemplated herbed biscuits or popovers. I decided in the end that the easiest and cheapest thing to do would be to just smush them all together into a pesto.

Some people are "purists" about pesto. I never realized until recently that there is a vocal group out there who insist that pesto must be a garlic/basil/nut/parmesan blend. That's sort of silly. Pesto, like risotto, is not about the ingredients, but the method. The word pesto comes from the fact that you grind your ingredients up in a pestle (pesto being the Italian word for pestle). You can grind up any assortment of herbs this way and still call it pesto. Heck, what really makes my pesto inauthentic is that I used a food processor.

What did I use? I had mint, thyme, tarragon, basil (although only a few useable leaves), oregano, scallions and parsley. I also had garlic and good parmesan. In my freezer were a couple of containers of different nuts. I went to work trying to figure out which herbs would be best together.

My pesto was not a very vibrant green color. It also was a very different taste. Sometimes I found I tasted several different things popping out of me in one bite. Other times it seemed one bite tasted one way and one bite tasted another way. It needed more salt. I should have used more cheese.

I added some roasted cherry tomatoes to the pasta because I have that vegetable guilt thing going.

I still have some other herbs left. Perhaps I'll get to those biscuits before they go bad, or I'll make a nice omlet.

My amounts are totally not measured. I just went with what I had.

Linguine with Random Pesto

1 small handful mint leaves
1 large handful fresh oregano
2 good handfuls fresh parsley
A few leaves of basil
4 cloves garlic
Toasted hazelnuts (I'll wager around 3/4 cup)
Copius amounts of parmesan, grated
Olive oil
Two pints cherry tomatoes, roasted with olive oil and salt (optional)
1 pound linguine

Grind the first 6 ingredients in a food processor. Add enough olive oil to make a smooth paste. Mix in the cheese.

Toss with tomatoes and hot cooked linguine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Big Fat Crazy Easter

I said I would be a little more attentive about posting more blogs, but you may have noticed I've gone back to taking a few days off (although I did finally get to do some catch up with blog reading in the past day or so). Well, that's because I hosted Easter this year and I had a lot to prepare for.

I had assumed that Easter would be a small affair. These days my family has stopped making Easter a priority. Everyone has other places to go and other people to see. A big family dinner isn't always in the cards. Last year my mother and Kevin and I were the only people around to celebrate and we ended up having brunch at Crystal Springs and spent the rest of the day riding.

I was shocked to find that when I offered to host an Easter dinner that everyone said they would come. Even my brother and sister-in-law, who spent the morning at her sister's house in New Jersey still said they would come to my dinner. I thought the dinner would be small. I ended up with sixteen people. That's the same number I had at Thanksgiving. Not only did everyone I invited agree to show up, but those people wanted to bring more guests with them! This was going to be quite an undertaking.

It was a chilly day, but spring is showing signs of being on the way with buds on the trees peeking through. It was windy, but that didn't stop the ducks from hanging out behind my building.

So what did we eat? We started with cheese from Cato Corner Farm that my uncle brought, some Easter bread courtesy of Mom, and of course, Italian Easter Pie, using the classic family recipe.

To make this pie I doubled the crust recipe. I didn't feel the original recipe would make enough crust to cover the pie. I had more crust than I needed as the photo shows, but I didn't have time to muck around with recipe adjustments. Another adjustment I made was to add some sorpresata to the pie along with the yummy pepperoni and proscuitto.

For a main course I made two meats. We had Giada's Garlic and Citrus Chicken (because Sir Pickypants won't eat pork). This is a great roast chicken recipe.

I wanted to do pork instead of ham. We had ham for Christmas and I really prefer pork anway. This recipe was Ina's Fennel-Stuffed Pork Roast.

Cheese grits are a tradition at holidays in my family, particularly for Easter, but Mom served them at Christmas, so I decided to do something else for my Easter dinner. I came up with a recipe for a caramelized onion and gruyere bread pudding (keep reading for the recipe).

Other dishes included roasted asparagus tossed in hazelnut oil, green beans cooked with roasted peppers (Mom made those) and cranberry cole slow (also courtesy of Mom). Mom used an Ina Garten recipe for the beans.

I was too lazy to put the cole slaw in a nicer bowl.

I bought these cute little candy-filled eggs at Williams Sonoma for the kids. They began disemboweling them right away. Next time I wait until they go home to give these out. I had jelly beans all over the floor.

Dinner got to a late start because the men all wanted to watch the golf game first.

Penelope showed off her dance moves for me. I guess she was on quite a sugar high.
Who is your favorite aunt, Pez?

I forgot to take photos of the dessert buffet. I was so overwhelmed by the company that day that I took 10 minutes to slip away from everyone and lay down on my bedroom floor. I couldn't even lie on my bed because everyone's coats were on it (and it would be conspicuous). It didn't make for good photo ops. Anyway, I made homemade caramel ice cream and Ina Garten's Deeply Chocolate Gelato. My sister-in-law provided a beautiful cookie tray, my mother provided a homemade lemon pound cake (Ina Garten recipe again. It was a Barefoot Contessa kind of Easter), and my father provided an assortment of baklava.

Now for my new recipe....

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding
About a pound of hearty bread (I used a multigrain), cubed
4 onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbl fresh thyme
2Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter
8 oz Gruyere, grated.
5 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch nutmeg

Cut bread into cubes ahead of time so they have a day or two to dry out.

Melt butter and oil in a pan over low heat and add onions. Cook them slowly until they are very soft and golden. Don't rush this. If you brown them too fast, they won't fully develop their sugars.

Toss bread chunks with cheese, onions, and thyme. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Place in a buttered baking dish.

Mix together cream, eggs, and nutmeg and pour over bread. Allow to sit several hours or overnight. When ready to cook, heat oven to 350 degrees and cook for 45 minutes or until custard is firm and top is nicely brown.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Soup (and Awards)

cooWell, first I want to say a big, "Aw Shucks" and thanks to Miranda, better known and loved as The Blonde Duck for bestowing upon me this award. She is an incredibly talented, witty, and spirited writer who really knows how to enjoy food. The award is for our blogging sisters who show great attitude/gratitude.
The Rules for the recipient:

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.
2. Nominate up to 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude
3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog, or sending them an email.
5. Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award

Well, I can definitely add some great bloggers to this one.

1. Sue, whom I think of as my guiding star in the blog world
2. Emily, who still says chipper and charming despite a couple of recent setbacks. I know she's going to make it big some day and when she does, I plan to knock back margaritas and eat cupcakes with her.
3. Donna, I discovered her blog only recently and wished I had done so sooner. She's not just a heckuva cook. She is probably one of the few people I know with a dirtier mind than mine (If any of my IRL friends are reading this, yes, it's true, but there is room in the gutter for this one to join me.)
4. Heather, who is taking on awesomeness beyond the kitchen
5. Melissa, who has found her voice and taking her own path on her bogging journey.
6. Susan, who has had her share of hard times recently, but still comes out with a great attitude and delicious recipes.

Speaking of recipes, it's time for the cooking segment of this post. Unfortunately my camera battery tends to go dead without warning as it did the night I made this soup. This made my blog a little under-illustrated today. I had hoped to get photos of the process, but all I could do was take a photo of the finished product once the battery was charged.

It's spring time and this time of year is associated with certain vegetables. One of them is asparagus. The other is spring onions. (There are also peas, but we are not going to talk about those.)

I discovered spring onions last year and I'm so into them now. I love their flavor. I also think they're very pretty. I wanted a photo of them for this blog, but alas, that cannot be.

Anyway, I wanted to come up with a creative way to use them. I thought about how often soup is made from onions (dark broth) or leeks (creamy broth) and thought it might be fun to make a spring onion soup of my own.

I wanted a nice creamy soup, rather than a dark, heavy French-Onion-Soup-style soup. The problem with that is spring is here and the layers of clothing are going to start shedding soon. Eventually it will be July and I'll be on vacation, showing off more flesh than people want to look at. Cream means mega-calories. I decided to take the advice of many diet fascists who say that one should try evaporated skim milk in place of cream in recipes. It worked pretty well. I'm not sure how much good it did in keeping the soup slim when it also contained prosciutto and butter.

To add to the vegetable quotient, I added pieces of chopped, roasted asparagus. I'm a little weird this way. I could have simply sauteed the asparagus with the onions and pureed it all togehter. I chose not to because I really only like my aspragus roasted. Having the pieces of aspragus gave me a little something solid to bite into anyway.

I'm sorry my soup was such an ugly color. It tasted pretty good. It really did.

Spring Onion Soup with Roasted Asparagus

3 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbl butter
1 quart chicken broth
1 can evaporated skim milk
1 bunch asparagus
1 Tbl oil
Salt and pepper
4 slices prosciutto (optional)

Cook onions in butter until they begin to soften. Add broth and simmer for about 30 minutes until onions are really soft and the soup mellows out.

Meanwhile heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss asparagus with oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on a cookie sheet. Roast for 10-15 minutes. Cut into 1" pieces.

If using prosciutto, place in a pan and gently cook over medium heat until crisp.

Add milk to soup. At this point you can either place this in a blender in batches to puree or else blend with an immersion blender. Be careful as milk can get foamy. You don't need to make it totally smooth.

Add asparagus to soup. Crumble in prosciutto and add that in as well. Serve and enjoy.