Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Excellent Lunch

Monday I had the wonderful privilege of finally meeting the hilarious and talented Sue in person. We had lunch at the Spice Market, one she recommended, in Chelsea (right near the Food Network studios). I have to tell you this is a great restaurant.

Here it is from the outside. It's quite large and very airy with plenty of open-air seating.

This is the section we ate in.
After the rapturous few minutes of seeing each other in person for the first time, we got down to the business of drinking. I had a raspberry and lychee bellini. Sue had a Singapore Sling. I had heard of them, but never drank one before. I took a taste and found it was a great drink. Sue said they're normally not made with so many fresh juices and tend to be sweet and chemical-laden. I am now thinking I must try a chemical-laden Singapore Sling in the future. My raspberry cocktail was quite delicious.

Onward to lunch. We opted for the Bento Box, which consists of soup, salad, and some small bites.

Here is why my lunch was so extraordinary. See that object in the lower, left-hand corner. That's a piece of cod. I ate that piece of cod. I didn't just take a bite and push it aside. I ate that entire piece of cod. Believe me, when you put fish on my plate, the likelihood that I will take more than a bite or two is really small. This cod was wonderfully crispy on the outside, was served with a tasty sauce, and the fishiness, while certainly present, was faint enough that I could tolerate it. I think it was the best piece of fish I have ever made myself eat. I would never order it in a restaurant and I would be a little upset if a friend tried to serve it to me for dinner, but I am happy to say it was actually edible.

The rest of the plate consisted of sate skewers, squash soup, papaya salad, and a small spicy vegetable salad. Each box comes with two skewers of your choice of meat, so Sue had the chicken and I had the pork and we swapped one each. They were really good. Sate can be such a throwaway dish in many Thai restaurants. The meat is often dry and it's just meant to be something you dip into sauce for an appetizer. This is not true at the Spice Market. The meat for both skewers was tender and delicious. The soup was also very tasty, and that's something pretty special too because squash is not my favorite vegetable and if you want to serve me squash soup, you had better do a really good job. The papaya salad was also amazing with lots of cashew nuts.

Lunch came with their speciality soft drinks. Mine was cherry yuzu and Sue had a homemade ginger ale. I liked the fact that neither of these were too sweet and both had powerful flavors. I had never had yuzu before. I really loved the floral taste in the soda.

Next was dessert. We opted to each order one of the dessert options and split them. There was Ovaltine kulfi and Banana-Macadamia ice cream. The kulfi was interesting. I think of kulfi as more ice-cream-like. This was served almost at room temperature. It was like malty fudge. The caramelized bananas it was served with were wonderful.

The ice cream was also delicious. It had a powerful banana taste with a hint of cinnamon. Unfortunately, it only contained two macadamia nuts. I had both of them. Poor Sue. She never got a single nut (unless you count the company).
The ice cream came packaged in a cute little takeout container.

We took a stroll through Chelsea Market after lunch. I had never been there before. I go into the city pretty often, but I really hadn't been in that neighborhood for years. There isn't much there as I might have hoped in terms of food and cooking shops. There is this cool fountain. It's a big water spout that empties into a wishing-well-like bottom that goes down pretty deep.

We found a cookware supply store. There was plenty of cool stuff in there.

Need a tagine?

How about stock pots on the ceiling?
Excellent day all in all. There is nothing like sharing good food with other food bloggers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Good Ideas, Bad Ingredients

I bought some beautiful pork chops at the farmer's market over the weekend. These were free-range chops I bought from the same people who sold me that infamous sausage.

I wanted to do something fun with them. I had all sorts of suggestions from people such as just grilling them (which means trotting out the grill pan and filling my apartment with smoke) or coating them with parmesan (not going to work for the hubby). I realized I wanted something sweet, maybe a bit spicy. I didn't have much money to help me shop for new ingredients, so I raided my kitchen to see what I could come up with.

I sprinkled the chops with salt and pepper and browned them in a pan.

Then I glazed them with a mixture of:

1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tbl honey
1 tsp chipotle powder
1/4 tsp cumin
Pinch of salt

Then they went into a 400-degree oven for about 5 more minutes.

They look fine although not particularly special in this photo. The were good accompanied by some roasted yellow grape tomatoes, but here was the issue.

I don't know what made me buy this honey (it was Italian?). I had bought it a couple of weeks earlier and almost forgot about it. had never seen chestnut honey before. I was very curious. How would it differ from other honeys?

How did it differ? A lot! It's gross. Chestnut honey is nasty. It did no favors to my citrus-and-spice flavors in the glaze. I had hoped once the chops were cooked that the flavor would have mellowed out. Nope. It was as bad coming out of the oven as it was going in. Ick poo! Don't buy this stuff ever! It's way too expensive to be this bad.

Good thing the pork was wonderful because otherwise dinner would have been traumatic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Meatballs and Mushrooms

If there is one food my husband always consistently loves, it's things made of ground turkey. He loves his turkey burgers and turkey meatloaf and turkey meatballs. Of course it's not my favorite meat. I find it kind of dry and flavorless, but since I can't make these things with beef, I've come up with ways to make ground turkey meals taste better.

The time had come around for a ground turkey meal. I just wasn't feeling burgers and meat loaf. I wanted something else. I thought about Swedish meatballs made with turkey. I have mucked around a bit with different ways of making them -all of them were totally inauthentic. Still, the idea of meatballs in gravy was speaking to me. It seemed like a really nice comfort food for someone who is recovering from a raging infection in her nether bits.

Swedish meatballs are traditionally seasoned with allspice, cooked in a somewhat creamy gravy, and then served with lingonberry jelly on the side. They're also made with beef. I'm dealing with a guy who is lactose intolerant and also claims beef irritates his widdle tum-tum so I leave tradition behind right out the gate.

My meatballs contained dried cranberries and were cooked in a "gravy" made in the style of a traditional veloute`. (Oh look! Last week's Top Chef has influenced me yet again.) I happened to have homemade chicken stock in the freezer, so I lucked out. I have taken to browning my meatballs in the oven because they hold their shape better and cook more evenly.

I added mushrooms and sherry to my sauce for a more complex flavor as well. I love sherry with mushrooms. In order to make these even more health-conscious, I served them over brown rice instead of noodles.

Meatballs in Mushroom Sauce
1/4 cup wholewheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 egg
Olive oil for sauteeting
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour
1 medium-to-large onion, diced (How much do you like onions?)
10 oz. sliced cremini musrhooms
4 cups chicken broth.
2 Tbl sherry
2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Mix togeher crumbs, cranberries, nutmeg and allspice. Give it a taste to make sure you like the seasoning, and then add the turkey and eggs. Mix well and shape into balls. Place on tray and cook 15 minutes.

Cook onion in a large pan until they begin to turn transparent. Add 'shrooms and cook till soft. Remove from pan.

Heat butter in pan with flour and cook until the floury taste is gone, but don't let it get dark. Whisk in chicken stock quickly, and keep stirring until thick. Add sherry and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add mushrooms, onions, and meatballs to the pan and cook till meatballs are heated through.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fun With Farro (and how the illness came in handy)

Hmm...maybe fun isn't the right word. Well, it started out fun.

Farro has been one of the new ingredients I've wanted to try for quite some time. I've had it only once at my recent birthday dinner at Tarry Lodge, where I had a delcious farro salad as an appetizer.

I wanted to make a side dish that would be similar to the one I had a Tarry Lodge, especially since corn is in season for a little while longer.

After making a huge batch of the stuff, I went for my camera and realized the battery was dead. I would have to charge it. Yes, I know that happens to me a lot on this blog. I never pay attention to the state of my battery until it's too late.

Well, luck was on my side. Then again, I don't think luck is the right word considering what I went through that night. After eating that farro alongside a lovely NY strip steak, I felt kind of funny. At 1:30 AM I woke up feeling beyond funny. I had blood coming out of places I have never seen blood. After two hours of not being able to sleep due to pain, I finally roused the hubby out of bed to take me to the ER. I was diagnosed with a raging bladder infection. Thank goodness for Greenwich Hospital. They saw me quickly, made me very comfortable, and gave me my first dose of medicine so I could start recovery right away.

Anyway, that leaves me home all day to take photos of my leftover farro with my now-charged camera. I had a leisurely day to put it on the good plates, drape the work area, and play with camera angles.

As I pointed out earlier, I served this alongside steak for myself. I deglazed the pan with brandy and added some butter to pour over the top. For Kevin I made tilapia in a meuniere sauce (I guess I have been very influenced by Top Chef lately) which he loved (is there anything that won't taste good with brown butter poured over it?). I do have leftovers that I could hypothetically take photos of, but leftover meats don't really look that appetizing.

I think I would have done what they do at Tarry Lodge if I made this again and grilled the corn first before cutting it off the cob. I think some bacon would be great with this as well, but that desire probably comes from the fact that at Tarry Lode, I ate my farro with a giant plate of prosciutto.

I realized when I was mixing a dressing that I was out of red wine vinegar, which was my first choice for vinegar. I used citrus champagne vinegar instead and then added some lemon zest to stay on the theme. By all means if you want to make this with red wine vinegar, use it. This is a dish meant to be played with.

I'm Not Andy Nusser Farro
1 package farro
2 quarts water
Olive oil for frying
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
Kernels scraped from about 2 medium ears of corn
1 small green pepper, diced
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbl citrus champagne vinegar
2 Tbl chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Cover farro with water and allow to sit for 25 minutes. Drain and put in a pot and cover with 2 quarts of water (or stock) and bring to a boil. Simmer 25 minutes. Drain.

In a large pan heat some olive oil and add garlic and onion and cook till fragrant. Add the corn, peppers, and tomatoes. Heat until tomatoes start to get a little burst and wrinkly. Add some salt and pepper if desired.

Mix together oil, vinegar, parsely and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add to cooked farro. Toss with vegetables and parsley and serve.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tip of the Day

The leftover crostini you have in the freezer from last week's dinner party are pretty good ground up and reused in your meatballs.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Failed Final Sweet Treat and an End-of-Summer Dinner for the Funnest People on Earth

Here's something funny. My husband takes extreme offense at the photo of the sausage from two posts down. He said it looks like someone's intestines. Well, Kevin it is someone's intestines! That's what sausages are. Well, Sue did say that it looked like a science experiment. I hereby promise never to put photos of long ropes of raw sausage again (unless of course it's hilariously funny to do so).

So summer ends unofficially. :-( Yes, it's still officially summer and we'll still have summer weather for a few weeks, but the pools are all closed, so the heat isn't as much fun.

At least I was able to send summer out with a bang. Most people barbecue on Labor Day. Me? I have to be different. I actually cooked dinner inside on the stove and served it inside. I'm such a rebel. (Well, actually it's because I don't have a grill or a backyard to put one in, but that's a minor, piddling detail).

Our guests this weekend were Bryan and Jenny, mentioned in previous posts as The Funnest People on Earth. I love getting together with them, and like many friends we have in our adult lives, we don't see them often enough. The last time they came over for dinner was last year when they shared the Summer Solstice with us. They have been with us for the official beginning of summer and now they're with us for the unoffical end of summer.

So what was on the menu?

I started with what I called a "Crostini Bar". I put out the toasted bread slices and then let the guests select their toppings. I had roasted peppers, sherry mushrooms (and the crostini recipe is here too), homemade lemony pesto (it was very improvised, so I can't really give you a recipe), and fresh mozzarella cheese. Everyone could top the bread how he or she wanted in whatever combinations would suit the fancy.

The cheese was to die for. It has been freshly made that morning and I couldn't keep my hands off it!

The next course was a chilled tomato soup. I wanted to do a gazpacho, but I just wasn't feeling gazpacho. I have been eating cucumbers and green peppers out the wazoo lately and also making a fair amount of gazpacho. It was becoming like a liquid salad to me. BOR-ING.

For my new soup I added roasted peppers and some cloves of roasted garlic to the tomatoes. Then I added some sherry, paprika, and ground almonds. Although it wasn't gazpacho, I felt it had some Spanish flair to it.

I forgot to take a photo of the actual soup. All I have is a photo of the tureen on the table. Don't you just love soup tureens?

The main course was chicken in figs and wine again, but I tweaked the recipe from the last time. I liked my previous recipe, but I was slightly disappointed in it. I felt it was a little on the sweet side, almost bland, and the caramelized onions needed some balance.

I tweaked the recipe by adding extra pancetta and using garlic instead of caramelized onions. I even threw some sage in with the wine and broth. I liked this recipe even better than the first one. It had a smoky sweet quality without being overly sweet. One of my best recipes.

I served it on polenta squares. I had to buy that crappy store-bought polenta in a tube because I was shopping close to home at my local grocery stores and none of them carry the polenta you have to cook. I mixed the stuff in the tube with some salt and parmesan, spread it in a pan, spinkled some oil and a little more parmesan on top and baked it till it held together nicely.

Dessert was the last recipe from the book that I plan to do for a while.

I did a sheet cake, a banana cake, a chocolate pound cake, two kinds of bar cookies, and one plain brownie. The only thing I hadn't done was a layer cake. The book has an overwhelming number of layer cakes and it's hard to choose one. Most of them seem very much alike. Some have milk and some have buttermilk. Some have a little more butter or another eggs. Most of them have the same amounts of chocolate in them. I'm sure I could tell the difference in textures if I tried them side by side, but I don't know how I'd know the difference otherwise.

I chose one called Chocolate Velvet Cake. I thought it was nice and festive, which was important since Bryan's birthday was a couple of weeks ago. It looked easy enough. I was going to cover it with white chocolate frosting and sprinkle chocolate toffee bits over it. (I found some nice toffe chunks at Trader Joe's. Why didn't I think of going there when I make the coconut and toffee bars last weekend?)

Well, things did not go as planned. The cakes baked up nicely, but they were very delicate. While tranferring the top layer, it fell apart. I tried to use the frosting to glue the cake back together, but it all just collapsed under the weight. The frosting itself was an unappealing off-white color. The cake was a mess and there was no way I would serve it. I scrapped it. I did try it before I scrapped it. The cake was good, but it really didn't taste that different from a cake one would buy at a commercial bakery.

Now what? I needed a dessert. I still had some chocolate in the house. I also happened to have milk, cream, butter and those toffee bits.

First I went to work on brownies. I went with the simple, classic "One-Bowl" recipe you get on the Baker's box. Susan once said it's the best brownie recipe of them all. I suppose one could argue about whether or not it's the best, but it's certainly the easiest.

Next I mixed up some ice cream. I made chocolate ice cream and tossed those chocolate toffee bits in it.

So here was my dessert. Brownies with chocolate-toffee-nut ice cream. Not a bad ending for improvisation!

Now for the recipes...

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
2 pounds tomatoes
3 red bell peppers
4-6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (I used a smaller number because I had HUGE cloves)
1 cup almonds, roasted and ground
2 Tbl sherry
1 tsp paprika
Salt to taste

Score an X in the tomatoes and drop them into boiling water for about two minutes or until the skin starts to peel away. Drop them in cold water immediately and peel off the skins. Squeeze seeds from tomatoes then put seeds through a strainer to get the juice. Chop into chunks.

Cut peppers in half and lightly brush with olive oil. Place on baking sheet with garlic cloves (also sprinkled with olive oil). Roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until skins start to blacken and bubble. Place peppers in plastic bags for a few minutes. Slip skins off. Also remove garlic cloves from their skins.

Place peppers, tomatoes, juice, garlic and almonds in food processor and puree till smooth. Add sherry, paprika, and salt.

Chill and serve.

Chicken in Figs and Wine 2
4 boneless, skinnless chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
4 oz. pancetta, chopped into little bits
4-6 cloves of garlic (again, I had HUGE cloves, so I used 4)
16 figs (preferably black mission) sliced
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
6 sage leaves
1 Tbl butter

Cook pancetta in skillet until crispy. Remove from pan.

Dredge chicken breasts in flour, salt and pepper.

You may find you have a little excess pancetta grease. You can drain off some of it, but don't get rid of all of it. You want that flavor. If you think you don't have enough, add a little olive oil to the pan.

Brown chicken breasts well on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Cook garlic for a minute or two until fragrant. Add wine and stock and make sure you get up every last little brown bit from the pan. Add figs and sage and simmer till reduced by about half.

Add chicken breasts back into pan until cooked through. Remove from pan and swirl the butter into the sauce.

Serve breasts topped with sauce. Sprinkle with pancetta bits.

If you want to get fancy, removed the figs with a slotted spoon and strain sauce before topping the chicken with it.

While cooking and baking all day I make myself hot dogs for lunch. I mixed up a pretty cool relish by using up odds and ends of condiments in the fridge. This is peppadew peppers, capers, and cornichons chopped up with some tomato paste.