Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Roasting Garlic

A great, quick, easy way to add flavor to just about anything: roasted garlic. It adds a ton to just about any sauce, soup, dressing....anything. I especially like to add it to tomato sauce, or compound butter for cooking poultry.


First, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Take a couple sheets of foil, about 10" x 10", put one right on top of the other. Put a bunch whole garlic cloves (or the whole head with the top cut off) in the middle of the sheets. You can leave the paper on the garlic or take it off. Doesn't really matter. Pull the sides up to form a little cup around the garlic cloves. Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper over the garlic. Close up the foil around the garlic, and place in the oven for 20 minutes.


After 20 minutes in the oven, take the garlic out and let it cool enough to handle. Remove the paper if you left it on (it should slide right off). Chop or smash the cloves and stir the paste into your sauce, dressing or whatever you're making. It'll add a great, strong, bold flavor and it takes out most of the bitterness in the garlic.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Starters - Cheesy, Porky, Nutty, Fruity Bruschetta

Last month I had a fantastic meal at The Dutch in New York City. A great spot that features all kinds of foods, mostly New American type stuff; simple in concept, but beautifully executed and presented. One dish there I particularly loved (and totally ripped off for this post/recipe) was a simple toast, cheese and veggie concept, or bruschetta as most people know it. But this is much better than every boring ass tomato-basil-mozzarella bruschetta you've seen a thousand times.


It starts out pretty simple, toasted ciabatta bread rubbed with garlic, then topped it with burrata (mozzarella with a creamy center...a little more expensive and less healthy, but generally pretty delicious). So far, probably pretty similar to most bruschetta you've seen. But the rest of the components are where it mixes up a bit. I think a good balance of textures and tastes is important in any dish, so here's what goes on top of the bread and cheese: radicchio (bitter), pancetta (salty), cantaloupe (sweet) and walnuts (crunchy). Covered it all right there. All kinds of tastes, and it's actually pretty light despite the cheese (there's nothing greasy or oily). And with all the colors it looks really perdy.


Recipe

  • 1 loaf ciabatta bread, cut in half lengthwise (making a top and bottom piece)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 ball burrata cheese
  • 2 1/4 inch thick slices pancetta
  • 1 cup radicchio, sliced into 1/2 inch x 2 inch shreds
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup cantaloupe, thinly sliced 1/2 inch x 2 inch slices
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher/Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
    • Put the radicchio slices in a shallow bowl and pour the lemon juice over them. Put it in the fridge and let it sit for at least 10 minutes, no more than 30.
    • Heat a small skillet to medium-high heat. Cut the pancetta into very small pieces. Put the pancetta into the skillet and cook until slightly browned and crispy (about 4-5 min). Remove to a paper towel to sop up the grease.
    • Turn a broiler or grill on to high. Drizzle the cut sides of both halves of bread with about a tablespoon olive oil.  Put the bread under the broiler (cut sides up) or on the grill (cut sides down) for about 2-3 min, just until golden brown. Remove to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Take the garlic clove and gently rub it all over the toasted surface of the bread.
    • Using your hands, shred the ball of burrata into chunks, making sure to mix the cream with the solid parts. Spread the shreds of cheese evenly over the bread.
    • Evenly and gently place the radicchio and cantaloupe pieces on top of the cheese. Then do the same with the walnuts. Sprinkle the bits of pancetta over the whole thing. Sprinkle a couple pinches of salt and pepper over the whole thing, then top it all with the chopped parsley.
    • Using a large chef knife, cut the loafs into large chunks for serving.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

One Bite Wednesday: Mozzarella Stuffed Arancini

Arnacini (or sometimes just called Rice Balls) are pretty common in traditional Italian places.  The idea is pretty simple; cooked rice, balled up, battered/breaded and fried.  Sounds good, right?  Yes, yes it does.


What goes inside the Arancini is where you can get creative. Stuffing them with cheese is pretty common, usually mozzarella. Ground beef works too. They're usually about the size of a softball and topped with a little tomato sauce. It's pretty filling and can be a meal all by itself. But here's a good way to get the full Arancini experience in one bite.

Most antipasto bars in grocery stores have those small, pearl sized mozzarella balls. So I like to use those as the center, and use risotto instead of plain white rice. Most good Italian places will use risotto, it really makes all the difference. You want to use something good enough to eat on it's own.


Since I'm going for one bite here, I want to keep it pretty small, so I just stuff them with the pearl mozzarella. No meat, peas, or any of the other stuff you see a lot. Those fillings are great for the regular, bigger sized ones, but this is a nice, simple, small package.


Recipe

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher/sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 12-18 pieces pearl mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup Italian season bread
  • Canola oil
This first part is really just a basic risotto recipe....Heat a large flat skillet/pan over medium high heat.  Heat the chicken stock in a separate pot over medium-low heat. Heat the olive oil, then saute the onion for 2-3 minutes. Add the butter and stir until melted.  Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Season the onion mixture with a couple pinches of salt and pepper.  Add the arborio rice, stir until well coated and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until fully absorbed, 2-3 minutes.  3/4 of a cup at a time, add the chicken stock to the rice mixture and stir constantly.  Don't add the next 3/4 cup until the last cup of stock is fully absorbed.  After adding the last of the stock, the rice should be slightly firm, but not gritty when biting/chewing (did that make any sense?). Stir in the parmesan cheese and the parsley.  Let the risotto cool at room temperature for at least a half hour.

After the risotto is cooled, pour 2-3 inches of canola oil into a pot/fryer and heat to 375 degrees.  Form 12-18 (however many you can) golf ball sized balls of risotto. Take the balls of mozzarella and press one each into the middle of each risotto ball, forming the risotto around the mozzarella to completely cover it.  Arrange three shallow bowls, one with the flour, one with the eggs (beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper) and the third with the bread crumbs.  Coat each ball with flour, then egg, then bread crumbs.  After all risotto balls are breaded, fry them in small batches (4-5 at a time), moving/spinning occasionally until they are golden brown on all sides.  Remove the balls to a cooling rack, and gently sprinkle with just a tiny pinch of coarse salt while they're still hot and oily.  Let them cool slightly and serve.  They're great with a little tomato sauce or pesto on top.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Between the Buns: Cranberry and Pecan Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is pretty close to the top of my list of favorite sandwiches. Good chicken salad that is. The spectrum of quality on chicken salad is gigantic. When done well, there's a good blend of texture, some tanginess (is that a word?) and juicy chicken. When done poorly, it's just overcooked, under seasoned chicken and a ton of mayonnaise. You want to be able to taste all the ingredients, and especially the chicken, and not let anything get drowned out. And keep it light; anything with too much mayo gets real gross real quick.


This recipe keeps the chicken juicy by poaching, not grilling or baking. It adds some crunch with pecans, some sweetness and chewiness with dried cranberries. And most importantly, instead of just throwing on a ton of mayo, it has a nice, light dressing with a good mix of mayo and some cider vinegar for a little acidity. Using some vinegar gives you all the flavor of mayo without all the heavy, fatty stuff. With some crusty, toasted bread and some fresh greens...this is definitely way on the positive side of the chicken salad spectrum.


Recipe:
  • 1.5 lbs boneless skinless chick breast
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (cut the stalks in half the long way, then chop into 1/2 inch thick pieces)
  • 1/2 roughly chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Kosher/sea salt
  • Black pepper
    • Preheat oven to 350. Put the chicken in a small casserole dish and add enough water to almost cover the chicken. Sprinkle 1/2 tablespoon salt over the chicken and water. Place the chicken in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until just cooked through. Allow chicken to cool for 10-15 min, until it's cool enough to to handle.
    • In a small bowl, whisk the mayo and vinegar together, add the parsley and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
    • After the chicken has cooled, shred it or chop it into 1/2 inch cubes or pieces. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, pecans, celery and cranberries. Sprinkle a few pinches of salt and pepper over the mixture. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and lightly toss to combine, trying not to break up the pieces too much. Season with a little more salt and pepper to taste.
    • Put in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours, letting everything cool down and come together.
    • Serve on toasted crusty bread with some crunchy greens (like arugula). Adding a thin slice of sharp cheddar cheese never hurt anyone either.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sweet Potato and Quinoa Cakes

Sometimes when I go through stretches where I’m cooking a lot I run into the same problem; too many leftovers. That means a lot of stuff goes to waste. To try to avoid that, I like to come up with ways to reuse leftovers and combine them to create new dishes, not just eat the same thing the next day. Here’s one recipe I used recently.


This recipe was an easy combo for me because it involves two things there are never a shortage of in our house: sweet potatoes and quinoa. I love my carb veggies, and sweet potatoes are a nice healthier option. And my wife makes a lot of quinoa. It’s great for salads and is pretty versatile. I decided to use the two together.

Quinoa is pretty neutral in flavor, just a little nutty, so it works pretty well with sweet potatoes. For this dish I took some roasted, small cut sweet potatoes, combined them with cooked quinoa, some bread crumbs and egg to bind it, a little parmesan and some herbs. Nice and easy. I love dishes like this that have lots of texture; nice and crispy on the outside after you lightly fry it, and nice and moist/soft on the inside.  Try some mash ups like this with the leftovers in your fridge, you might find a new favorite.


Recipe:

·         2 cups cooked (roasted or sautéed) sweet potatoes, in about ½ inch cubes
·         1 cups cooked quinoa
·         ½ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
·         1 egg
·         2 tablespoons olive oil (this keeps everything from getting sticky)
·         1/3 cups bread crumbs (Italian, Panko, whatever you’ve got)
·         1 tablespoon chopped parsley
·         1 tablespoon chopped basil
·         ½ tablespoon kosher/sea salt
·         ½ tablespoon black pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium/high heat with a ¼ inch of olive oil.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix by hand until combines, but be careful not to mash the sweet potatoes (you want to be able to see each ingredient, not muddle them together). Form 3 to 4 patties, about 4 inches across and about 1 inch thick. Gently place the patties in the skillet. Cook on one side until slightly browned (about 2-3 minutes), then flip and cook on the same on the other side. After both sides are cooked, remove to a paper towel to sop up grease and allow to cool slightly. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

True Food: Kale Pesto with Papperdelle

In my wife's ongoing struggle to get me to cook/eat healthier (Hey, I'm just like Barack!), she got me a new cookbook that emphasizes natural, seasonal, sustainable cooking. It's called True Food, by Andrew Weil and Sam Fox, who recently opened three True Food Kitchen locations that all embrace the spirit of the book. Despite the stigma that I sometimes (stupidly) place on "healthy food", this book has some really good stuff in it.


Chances are you probably know about the big movement in this direction in food in the last few years, so I'm certainly not breaking any ground talking about it here. But the book does a nice job of laying out simple recipes and lessons on how you can easily incorporate these healthy ideologies into your everyday kitchen. Some very cool stuff, here's one recipe from the book that I've really enjoyed (pics are mine, recipe is not):

  • 8 cups stemmed, chopped kale (about 2 bunches)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp lack pepper
    • I like to add the zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon...that's just me, not in the real recipe.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and water.
  2. Plunge the kale into the boiling water for 3 minutes, then remove the kale to the ice water, this preserves the bright green color and instantly stops the cooking process. After cooling for 3 minutes, strain the kale in a colander and press to get rid of the excess water.
  3. Put the kale and the remaining ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Toss with 1lb freshly cooked thick ribbon style pasta (pappardelle or fettuccine work well), garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Starters: Feta Salad with Kalamata Olives, Sundried Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs

One simple thing I like to do when having folks over is put out a simple board with cheeses, olives, nuts, etc. To mix it up every now and then, I like to make this spread/dip that combines some of those things into one: Feta Cheese with Kalamata Olives, Sundried Tomatoes and Fresh Herbs.


Between the Feta and the Olives there's a lot of salty, briny stuff going on. So it's important to balance it out with some creaminess and acidity. I add a little olive oil to soften it up and bit, and some lemon juice to cut through the saltiness. Very easy, 5 minutes of work, tons of flavor. Give it a try.


Recipe:

  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 a small lemon
  • Kosher/sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Lightly mix the cheese, olives, tomatoes, dill, parsley and lemon zest together in a medium bowl. Mix enough to combine everything, but don't muddle too much, you want to be able to see all the components indiviually. Slowly pour in the olive oil, then lemon juice a little bit at a time, stirring intermittently. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Serve in a small bowl with a water crackers or pita chips for scooping.