Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Well fans, I'm off to Vail, CO to ski my legs off for the next week with Boyfriend and his family.  Its been snowing like crazy out there and I'm not sure I've ever been so excited to travel over the holidays.  I love spending time with his family, and it was so generous of them to invite me on their family ski trip this year.  Especially since I'm not nearly as good of a skier.  I get an "A" for effort though, right?  Right?!?!

95% of the time, I love living in Boston, even when it looks like THIS outside:

The view from my office window on Tuesday
But I CAN'T WAIT to be doing this:

Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmahanakwanzika and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Watermelon-Lemongrass Glazed Shrimp

Earlier this summer, during the height of my summer produce from my Stillman's Farm CSA, I had more watermelon that I could eat.  Which is saying a lot.  Because I LOVE watermelon, especially in the record-high heat we experienced this past summer.  But needless-to-say, I couldn't eat another watermelon, so I decided to try out my new canning equipment and store it away for the winter.  So, that's the long-ish story of how I ended up with Watermelon Jelly.  Sounds grossly sweet doesn't it?  I'm sure you're imagining it on a PB&J and holding back the vomit too, huh?  I had this under control though, because there wasn't just watermelon in my jelly.  I don't think you're read-y for this jell-y (ha! song-poisoned you, didn't I?)  I also added some ginger and lemongrass, thinking that someday I might use it in an asian-inspired dish.

Et Voila!  That's how my BoyfriendApprovedTM Watermelon-Lemongrass Glazed Shrimp and Veggies was born.  Boyfriend told me it was the best dinner I had made in awhile (which I would never take as an insult... or would I? Nah!).  Of course, he's a little biased because anything containing shrimp is a certified winner in his book.

First, I started heating a pan over medium heat, then added some olive oil and butter.  I added a diced small onion, some minced garlic, and grated fresh ginger, letting that cook down until the onions were soft and the ginger fragrant, about 5min.  Added my watermelon jelly and some homemade seafood stock to the onions and let it cook down for about 5-10min.  Once the "sauce" had started to thicken in the pan, I added 1/2 lb medium shrimp that I had peeled earlier and let those cook until just pink throughout. 

On the side I sauteed some quartered porcini mushrooms and sugar snap peas in some oil and butter until browned, but still with a little crunch to them.  I hate it when veggies get cooked to the "mushy" stage.  Blech!  Until I am 500 years old with dentures, I can at least have the pleasure of chewing my food.

I made some coconut jasmine rice on the side (add 1/2 can of lite coconut milk to the water you plan to cook your rice in), and sprinkled some chopped cashews and scallions over the top in the final plating.
Boyfriend was my sous chef.  Here, he adds the finishing touches with artistic flare (>ha!<)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Huevos Benedicto

"Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato and Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num."
Eggs Bene is like, my favorite brunch food.  Seriously.  I make some version of it almost every weekend that we are home in Boston.  I've already done a post about "traditional" Eggs Benedict with homemade English Muffins, so for this month's Daring Cook's challenge I decided to go back to my Arizona days and whip up something with a little more spice.  And I didn't have any english muffins.  And it was raining.  And I'm obviously terrible at planning ahead.  Thank god I keep a stash of polenta (cornmeal) in the pantry.

Starting from the bottom, homemade, polentabread, topped with jalapeno-infused refried black beans, sliced avocado, tomato, and a perfectly poached egg.  Some salsa verde instead of hollandaise and a sprinkle of cojita cheese finish the dish.  Om nom nom. 
Sorry its a little blurry.... Santa, I'd like a tripod :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Peanut Soba Noodles

I needed something different from turkey. Shocker, right?

This was one of those got-home-late-from-work-and-need-something-quick dinners.  This took maybe 15min.  Maybe. 

Everyone has (or should have) some kind noodle and peanut butter in their pantry.  Seriously, if you don't, you better be allergic to peanuts or something because there is just no excuse.  And I really don't think it matters whether its creamy or chunky.  We could have this debate all day, but I only buy chunky, Boyfriend only buys creamy... The moral is to buy whatever you like and then use it to make this dish one day when you're starving but have no real food in the house.  Do it because I told you to.  Just kidding.  Kinda.

Mix together the peanut butter (1/4 C), some soy sauce (3 tbsp), rice vinegar (3tbsp), a splash of fish sauce (optional) and honey (1 tbsp) and you've got yourself dinner.  Garnish with scallions and peanuts.  Boom.  Done.

And while we're at it, World, meet Boyfriend.
Not sure why this is so blurry, one of us clearly can't keep still....
And remember, take those measurements I gave above with a grain of salt.  Its not like I actually measured them other than by my well trained (>HA!<) eye.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Win the "What to do with Thanksgiving Leftovers" Contest!!

Yeah, that's right.  I said it.  I win.

Here is a quick view of our Thanksgiving spread with my leftover ingredients (used in this dish) labeled:
and yes, we used our beer pong table as the buffet table... don't ask

I made the pasta using leftover Butternut Squash Gratin, some AP flour, semolina, and an egg.  I only used 1 egg since the squash was pretty "wet" and I realized I only had 3 eggs total and would need them all for other parts of the meal.  I ended up adding a splash of olive oil later though because the texture didn't seem quite right at the time.  It ended up being a good call.  A better call would've been to buy eggs at the store... but that's neither here nor there.

While the pasta dough was resting.  I finely chopped up some leftover turkey (breast and leg meat), an onion, and a couple cloves of garlic.  I put the onions and garlic in a saute pan with a little olive oil.  When that got nice and soft, I added some white wine and let that reduce a bit.  The turkey went in next along with some tomato paste, chopped parsley and tarragon.  I let all of this cook together for about 10min, adding a sprinkle of water if it seemed to dry out too much.

Earlier in the day, I made some ricotta for the filling.  I've done it so many times now and its so ridiculously easy that I'm ashamed I bought it all these years.  I mixed the ricotta with an egg, some salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg.  The ricotta mixture was added to the turkey and a ravioli filling was born.

I love making ravioli.  Which, you've noticed since my last post was also ravioli.  Not intentional, I swear.  Its also ridiculous that it works out that my last ravioli recipe also involved turkey.  OK, I'm rethinking the title to this post now... I, in fact, may have actually failed epically.  Sorry to let you guys down like this... man.  I suck.

Aaaaaaaaand, I'm over it :)

Because honestly, how awesome does this look?
Ok, maybe it doesn't look awesome yet, but just run with it.

Brush between each mound of filling with egg wash (1 part egg, 1 part cold water) and seal with the other sheet of dough.  I cut these into circles (see? they are different after all... sort of... ) and let them rest while a pot of salted water came to a boil.  Once boiling, I added them gently, 3 at a time, and they only needed about 2-3 minutes before they were done-zers.

For a sauce, I chopped up our leftover brussel sprouts and kale (see picture above) and sauteed them in brown butter to use as a "sauce". 

A sprinkle of chopped almonds and parsley finished the dish.

It was LOVELY.  Different, yet still reminiscent of Thanksgiving.  Boyfriend was reluctant about the greenery on top of his ravioli until he tasted it.  We both just about licked our plates clean it was so good.
So, while I DO apologize for count 'em, TWO turkey-ravioli-style recipes in a row, I certainly didn't want to keep this gem from you any longer.  Thanksgiving redesign at its finest.  Squash pasta enveloping a turkey filling, with a brown-butter brussel sprout sauce.

And to totally run off on a tangent, do you want to know the worst part... WE STILL HAVE TURKEY LEFTOVER!!  Jesus, we'll be eating turkey for a month.  So far I've made this ravioli, spicy turkey curry, BBQ turkey sandwiches, regular turkey sandwiches, and (upcoming) turkey agrodolce.  I am a self-proclaimed math genius yet somehow this blows my mind because I seriously cannot figure how we fed 11 people with a 16lb turkey and still have like 10lbs leftover.  FRIENDS, I BEG YOU, WHY DIDN'T YOU EAT MORE??  WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING ME WITH ALL THIS LEFTOVER TURKEY??

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Ravioli with Walnut Puree and Braised Turkey

I'm not going to lie to you.  This recipe was complicated.  Well, at least complicated in terms of what I usually cook... not Alinea complicated or even close.  Dear God, the thought of that made me both hungry and exhausted all at once.

The first thing I did was start braising a couple turkey breasts.  Funny enough, I was actually stupid enough to buy turkey breasts weeks BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Yeah.  Dumbass.  I think its was about 2 weeks before turkey day that I made this for dinner, clearly not planning ahead.  Now I'm on such turkey overload that even writing this post is daunting.  However, if you have some leftover turkey and a few hours on your hands, give this vague with lack of measurements recipe (or parts of it) a try. 

I started by sauteing onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in some olive oil, then added some water, white wine, and herbs (thyme I think, but it doesn't really matter).  I let that cook over low heat, covered, for about 45min to an hour.  Braising is such an interesting thing because at first, it strikes fear into your heart because the meat get super-tough.  Give it time young one, because after what feels like too long, it is suddenly succulent and fork tender.  Awesome.

While that was going on, I started making pasta and roasting some squash.  The squash is easy.  Cut it in half, salt and pepper it, drizzle on olive oil and toss it into a 400F oven.  Wait 30min, test for done-ness with a fork.  If the fork slides in/out of the flesh easily, its done.  Let the squash cool, then scrape out the flesh into a medium bowl. 

Note: I made my own ricotta for this but unless you have a bunch of milk laying around to get rid of just buy the stuff.

Add ricotta (~1/4C) and egg to the squash along with a pinch of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Reserve this for later, its the filling.  Obviously.

Pasta.  My new thing is making pasta.  For some reason I have this inner demon telling me that until I perfect my pasta-making, I'm not allowed to keep calling on my Italian ancestry.  Why am I so short? Because I'm Italian! Why am I so good at drinking wine?Because I'm Italian!  So yeah, I hand rolled my ravioli dough.  You can find a simple pasta dough recipe anywhere, but no matter what, be prepared to have to play with it a little to make it suit your tastes.  That, and be prepared for a workout because man is it hard to get it thin enough with only a rolling pin.  I like to roll mine out then let them hang out over a chair/cabinet door (get it? hang out?!? zing!) for at least 30 min before forming the ravioli.  Don't let the dough dry out though, make sure you cover them with a damp cloth whilst they chill.

Make ravioli.  Cut the sheets of dough into long, similarly sized rectangles.  Add a tablespoon or so of the squash filling.  Brush the edges with some egg wash (egg yolk + water) and lay a second dough sheet on top and seal the edges (that's what the egg wash is for).  Cut out squares.  Done.

Walnut and Sage Puree.  This might have been the easiest part of the meal.  Well, boiling the water wasn't so tough either.  But yeah, this is a cinch.  Throw some walnuts in the food processor with some sage.  Blend.  Add the mix (saving a little for garnish later) to a skillet with some butter and wine and cook it over medium heat until it makes a fragrant, thick sauce/puree. 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  We're finally getting close, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Back to the turkey first.  I loved how the braised turkey tasted, but the texture didn't seem right for this dish.  It was too many "soft" things on the plate.  So I decided to shred the turkey and place it in the oven to crisp up at little.  Wonderful flavor from the braise plus some textural contrast.

Cook the ravioli in the boiling water until they float to the surface and seem done, I think about 2 minutes or so is how long mine took.

Assembly time! Yay!

Walnut-Sage puree on the bottom.  Top with ravioli.  Throw some turkey on top of the ravioli.  Shave some Parmesan over the top and sprinkle some remaining walnut-sage crumbs over the whole thing. 

What could possibly make this better you ask?  Yeah, see that thing with the gold writing in the background next to my nasty dish sponge, gross Laura!?  Truffle oil.  Yeah.  I went there.


I don't think I need to tell you that this was pretty awesome once we finally sat down to eat it.  And you know the best part?  I decided to make this dish on ON A TUESDAY.  Smart, huh? Thank god Boyfriend had class until 9pm 'cuz we certainly weren't going to eat any earlier than that.

I know some of you have some turkey and squash laying around from last week begging to be used up.  Try this.  Or, if you don't have 5 hours to spend in the kitchen.  Just make the easy-as-pie walnut sauce and toss it over some pasta with the turkey and squash.  Hell, that might only take you 15 minutes.  Why on earth did I just think of that now?!?!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Colcannon with Turkey Kielbasa

I have to admit, I made this dish over a month ago, during the Great Computer Meltdown of 2010.  But I figured that you deserved to see an adaptation of one of my favorite childhood recipes.  My mom used to make kielbasa with cabbage and potatoes all the time when I was growing up and I would go ga-ga for it (strange child, I know).  Somehow, I never remember my mom's kitchen smelling like farts... but yeah, cabbage apparently seems to do that.... Boyfriend was a little nervous....

Super-lucky for moi, my CSA crops were fantastic this year and one of the things that I've been over-run with is potatoes.  I never used to buy potatoes, seriously, never.  And, even now, I don't think I would conscientiously purchase them unless I needed them for a recipe or something.  I don't know why, but I think maybe I have some mental aversion to potatoes because I'm so against the "meat and potatoes" diet that so many of us fall prey to.  But then again, get ready to learn all about my meat-and-potatoes-(and cabbage) dinner :)

Either way, when I found myself looking at nothing but cabbage and potatoes... you know I thought, right? Whiskey and Famine!

Ha ha!.... ha...  Ha?  No... not really.

I thought of colcannon, the traditional Irish dish of cabbage and potatoes that my mom used to make with the inclusion of smoked kielbasa.  Since it was a million years ago when I made this I have zero idea the exact measurements I used for the seasonings so I'll let you use your tastebuds if/when you ever give this a try.

potatoes, mashed with butter and light cream
cabbage, sliced into thin stripes
smoked polish sausage, cut on the bias
apple butter (homemade, but I think you can find it anywhere or substitute apple cider vinegar)
course dijon mustard (from Trader Joe's)
a liquid (I used beer, but water or white wine would also work well)
salt and pepper, to taste

Basically, I made mashed potatoes (do it however you usually do).  Next I sauteed up my kielbasa until the edges were starting to get crispy and delicious, at which point I removed them from the pan and added my liquid (beer) to deglaze.  I added my cabbage, apple butter, mustard, salt and pepper and let the cabbage cook down for about 20min or so.  Once the cabbage is getting mushy and flavorful, I put the sausage back in the pan to re-heat it and boom! done.

Easy to make and easy on the wallet.  Great fare for the upcoming colder months, and fairly healthy to boot!  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rise and Shine! Lobster Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose SoufflĂ©s as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflĂ© recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.
On one hand, I was super excited for this month's challenge, I've never made a souffle!..... On the other hand, I knew it would be a challenge... both because I've never made a souffle nor do I own a souffle dish.

But hey, what's the point of joining the Daring Cooks if not for the challenge, right?  

The recipes that were included in the challenge all seemed so delicious (watercress souffle, crab and artichoke souffle, chocolate souffle!)... but I really wanted to put my own spin on it, and what better way to show off New England (and make everyone super-mouth-watering-ly jealous) than with a Lobster Souffle?

I followed the basic souffle recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking (thanks Julia!) but added some lobster juice and body/tail meat to the milk/egg/flour base.  A quick warning should you try this one day: it came together much more quickly than I anticipated and I was very glad I pre-measured and chopped all my ingredients ahead of time.

Ingredients (for 2 entree souffle's)
1/2 C grated pecorino cheese (I substituted, the original calls for parmesan)
1 small shallot, diced
1 C 1% milk
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tsp tomato paste (more for color than flavor)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/2 C chopped lobster & its juices
2 tsp chopped oregano

My mise en place:
MtAoFC in the background....
1) Pre-heat oven to 400F and place rack in the bottom third.
2) Butter and "cheese" your souffle dish (coat the sides/bottom with a thin layer of cheese)
3) Heat the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and cook until soft (2-ish minutes)
4) In a separate saucepan, heat the milk and lobster juices until warm but not scalding.
5) Add flour to the butter/shallot mixture and stir for a couple minutes until the flour just barely starts to brown.
6) Off heat, add 1 C of the the hot milk/lobster juice mixture to the flour/shallot mixture and whisk to incorporate and thicken.
7) Back over a low heat, whisk in all but 1 tbsp of the cheese, salt, pepper, oregano and tomato paste.
8) Off heat, add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking to incorporate after each addition.
9) Let the souffle base sit while you beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  I used my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment, but a regular electric mixer will work fine.  I didn't use cream of tartar (not due to some weird aversion, I simply don't have any) but I used a  splash of lemon juice instead.
10) Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the souffle base to lighten it, then carefully fold in the remaining whites, trying very hard not to break them down too much.
11) Pour this delicious mixture into the souffle dishes (or soup bowls in my case), sprinkle with the remaining cheese and put in the oven for 30min. 

Julia's recipe says to turn the stove down to 375F once you put them in the oven, so that's what I did.  I also tried very very very hard not to open the oven door lest my souffles collapse.  I'm sure I looked like a maniac as I squatted near my oven door, beer in hand, giggling like a school-girl as I watched my beautiful souffles rise.  I tried to take a picture, but it turned out like this:

So puffy!!
Me thinks I need to clean my oven....

After I pulled these amazing smelling concoctions out of the oven I took a picture as fast as I could while watching them deflate.  Its true, the souffle waits for no one.  Puffy or not, these babies were Mmm Mmm Good!  Even though I put relatively little lobster into each of them, the flavors really came through wonderfully.  Next time I think I'll add a little nutmeg and maybe try to get my hands on a proper souffle dish (I'm hoping they won't collapse as quickly, but that might be a pipe dream).

Can you tell how much they've already deflated?
Boyfriend LOVED it and subsequently asked me, "So, is this considered a healthy or un-healthy dinner?".  I smiled and replied, "Let's just say we won't be having these all that often.  I think the butter alone counts for almose half of the calories in the dish."  He thought about it for a minute, then just smiled and said, "So good honey... really really good."  I'll take that compliment, thankyouverymuch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back in time... Chiles Rellenos

I miss living in Arizona (sometimes).  The sun.  The dry heat.  The food.

Everytime I go back I make sure I hit up my favorite food and drink spots.  No Anchovies, Rosa's, Nico's, The Shelter, The Buffet, Taco Bron (now called Papas y Beer, I think).

As if I needed to tell you this, but the Mexican food in Boston is... well.... to put it lightly... crap.  It's either over-Americanized or over-thought, and never nearly as authentic.  Maybe its the lack of lard?  The boring tortillas?  And even though I might seem like I'm complaining about this... like I expect someone to *finally* open the ideal taco stand, I'm perfectly happy about this situation.  Why?  Because food tastes best when it grows near where you live.  When you find me an avocado tree or some Hatch green chilies growing in Massachusetts... then I will start to get antsy for some real Mexican food.  But that's not what we do here.  We do lobster and clams.  They grow here.  Its why our Lobster Rolls and Clam Chowder are famous and why you can't really reproduce them anywhere else.

But that doesn't mean I can't try.... :)

I haven't had chiles rellenos since I left AZ, so I think that puts it at around 4 years.  When I was at the farmer's market last week, you won't believe what I saw.  POBLANOS.  Yeah, that's right. So I snatched them up and was on a mission to make some delicious Mexican food because a smart woman once said,
" tastes best when it grows near where you live.  When you find me an avocado tree or some Hatch green chilies growing in Massachusetts... then I will start to get antsy for some real Mexican food."
Seeing poblanos sitting in a bin having traveled only 50 or so miles to Boston from my CSA farm made that statement true as day.

Poblano peppers
cheddar cheese (I bought a block and cut it in slices.  If shredded works better for you, fine)
cojita cheese
soy-rizo (or use real chorizo, up to you, but I think Trader Joe's soy chorizo is the bomb)
eggs (1 egg per pepper)

Seems simple, right?  Actually, it is.

1) Roast the poblanos until the skin is charred and black.  Put them in a covered bowl or plastic bag to steam for at least 15-30min (until the skins peel off easily).
2) Once you've peeled the poblanos, cut a slit in them lengthwise and remove the seeds and ribs carefully, trying not to tear the pepper up.
3) I sauteed my soy-rizo in a skillet to bring out some of the flavor, but this is optional if you just want to use cheese only.
4) Stuff the peppers with cheddar cheese and soy-rizo, but not so full that you can't get them closed.
5) Separate the eggs into yolks and whites and beat the whites into stiff peaks.
6) Mix the yolks with flour (1 tbsp per 3-4 eggs) to make a paste.
7) Add the yolk paste to the beaten egg whites to form a homogeneous but fluffy batter.
8) Heat 1/4" oil in a skillet (for frying).
9) Carefully roll each stuffed poblano in a coating of flour, then dip in the egg batter.  Place in the hot oil and fry on all sides until golden brown and delicious looking.

I served these over some cilantro brown rice with a sprinkling of cojita cheese.  Delicious!  And, better yet, the poblanos had some serious kick to them.  Now, I'm very tolerant to spicy food.  Love me some spicy food.  But even I ended up chugging water and eventually going to the kitchen for a swig of milk because my mouth was on fire.  Boyfriend said his weren't nearly as hot as mine (maybe I missed some seeds?).

Still, next year when CSA season is cranking, you can bet your hot peppers I'll be snatching up some more of these darlings to satiate my Mexican cravings.

Arizona.  Mexico.  I miss you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beet Gnudi with Portobello, Shallot & Fig Cream Sauce

Right, I know... totally random.

I've been reading a TON of molecular gastronomy blogs lately (shout out to Salty Seattle and Alinea at Home) and I thought that for once, instead of relying on my usual ideas of Italian-means-tomatoes-and-basil and Greek-equals-feta-and-olives, I decided to try to think about flavors.  Now, the reason these traditional cuisines are so delicious is exactly because a long time ago people discovered that basil and tomatoes balance each other terrifically.  So, I have been trying to come up with a way to use up the rest of my beet gnocchi (gnudi actually, because they are ricotta-based instead of potato.... details, details) and be slightly more creative about it and the flavors that come with it. 

Here's about how it went in my wine-addled brain:
"Beets.  Beets are earthy.  What else is earthy?  Mushrooms.  Yes, mushrooms!  I love mushrooms.  Mushrooms make me want a nice glass of pinot noir.  I love wine.  Mmmmm shiraz is also tasty.  Shiraz is peppery.  Pepper! Yes, pepper.  How do I make this a sauce?  Cream.  Can't go wrong with cream.  Beet gnudi with mushrooms in a peppery-cream sauce.  Seems to earthy.   I mean, I love the earth and all... but hmmm... too much of the same.  Maybe something sweet?  I do have to dried figs in the pantry... oh, and by the way, I need to figure out what 'figgy' pudding is..." 
Aren't you sad you now know how I think?  Imagine working with me.  Tangents.  Everywhere.  No wonder my students always look so confused....

Moving on. 

I tossed some sliced portobello mushrooms, garlic and shallots into an oiled saute pan over medium heat to get soft and start browning.  Once I got some nice color on the 'shrooms, I added the chopped figs and about 3-4 tbsps brandy to the pan and turned the heat up a little to bring it to a simmer. 

I started a pot of salted boiling water for my gnudi, they only take like 2 minutes to cook, even from frozen.  Yay for fresh pasta!

Once the brandy evaporated off and everything was smelling fantastic, I added about a 1/4 C cream, some beef stock and a healthy dose of cracked pepper.  While that was amalgamating and getting all happy, I cooked the gnudi.  About 5 minutes later I had the gnudi plated and was pouring delicious earthy-figy-goodness over the top.  A sprinkle of thyme to seal the deal.

Yum.  I thought this turned out great.  Boyfriend liked it too, but thought that next time I should add less figs and/or chop them up a little finer.  I agree (although how often to I make things twice... yeah, the answer to that would be, "extremely rarely").  But just in case, I will heed his advice :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Locally Grown Feast

First, I'm sorry I haven't been posting much lately.  I've been traveling a TON, work has been crazy busy, and, to top it off, my home computer totally bit the big one.  I've been cooking some super fun stuff... just haven't had time to upload any of it.  So, hopefully, this post will be the beginning of good things to come :)

And here we go (again on my own, goin' down the only road I've ever known!)  Now that I've song-poisoned you... here we go:

I'm so sad now that my CSA season has come to a close. Because of all the travel this summer, I really missed the experience of walking to pick up my veggies every Sunday morning.  Luckily for me, my awesome roommate came to the rescue so I only had to miss 2 pick-ups all season.  However, now that its all over, I find myself hoarding winter squash and potatoes, knowing that they will store the longest and provide me with some lingering joy knowing that they were grown so close to where I live.

That said, I'll need to cook them up at some point.  I can't go hoarding them forever.  I made a delicious roasted butternut squash and ginger risotto a couple of days ago (forgot to take a picture... bad food blogger!) but had the neck of my beautiful butternut squash left, all alone, in the fridge... there are only 2 of us and that was one big squash.

Now, Boyfriend as I've mentioned, isn't the biggest squash fan.  Butternut is an easy one though because it's pretty sweet and the texture isn't as mushy as long as you don't cook it forever.  With that in mind, my first inspiration was to make a butternut and potato gratin.  I wanted to break up the sweetness and squashy-ness with some nice starchy potatoes (which I've also been hoarding).

A layer of potatoes, layer of squash, repeat.  Salt & pepper, cover with foil and bake for 30min in a 350F oven.  Uncover, pour some light cream over the top and bake uncovered for another 15min or so until the cream is thickening and bubbling.  Top with some panko and dots of butter, toss under the broiler, and done.  Easy peasy (well... more about that later... wait for it...).

As for the other part of our "local" feast.  Well, there's a nice story associated with that one.  However, I will warn you, I was recently told that my stories run a little long these days.... I think the phrase I heard all weekend was “Land the plane, Laura... Land. The. Plane”.  
I was down in the North End buying ground lamb (for euprika, see here) when on my walk back to the T I wandered across Mercato del Mare.  I’ve been to Mercato del Mare before, I love it.  Small little local seafood monger.  Most amazing owners ever (Woot Woot! Keri and Liz!!).  Ever. I popped in with a simple question, “Hey, are you guys still doing those free oyster shucking lessons on Saturday?”
Keri: “Yeah, definitely."

"Great, I'll try to make it down this weekend."

K: "Well, hey, I mean, are you busy now?”... 

“Well.... no”

K: “Well, c’mon in then!  I’ll make (name) show you how to do it”  *meanwhile, (name) is wearing a lobster on his head... fan-&*%-ing-tastic!*

“Really?!?  Awesome!”
And that’s how I learned to shuck oysters.  
Oh.... wait....
That’s not really important right now is it?  OK, here’s the important part, I felt so at-home and happy that I also bought a pound of fresh-off-the-boat bay scallops.  It was a kickass day, I got some fresh ground lamb, learned to shuck oysters, and picked up some nice local scallops.  Happy day!

My impromptu dinner was slowly coming together.  
Local scallops, seared (in butter, obv) with sweet potato gratin and a nice salad.

The scallops were unbelievably good (the butter might have had something to do with that... just a little something) and the gratin turned out significantly better than I thought since I totally burned the panko topping under the broiler because I wasn't paying attention and wine may or may not have been involved let's just leave it at that.

In fact, I believe this gratin might make an appearance on the Thanksgiving table this year....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stuffed Grape Leaves... Euprika?

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

I was so excited for this month's Daring Kitchen challenge!  When I was a kid, I remember my Stepmom used to spend hours making, rolling and cooking our family's version of stuffed grape leaves.  My Grandfather called it "Euprika" (and I have no idea how to spell it... this is only a guess).  I would get sooooo excited when I found out that we were having euprika for dinner!!  And as you can probably imagine, getting a teenager to eat grape leaves is no easy feat - nevermind getting a teenager to LOVE it.  She would make what seemed like millions of these delicious parcels of goodness and freeze them in batches for dinners later in the year.  After finally making them myself (which took me 2 days, mind you), I appreciate all her hard work so so so much more.  I also now realize why we only got this "treat" a few times a year :)

Now, because I can never leave good enough alone, I of course changed up some of the ingredients.  Overall, I thought it was an improvement and each bite had a nice hint of nostalgia.

grape leaves
1/2 lb ground lamb (thank god for Sulmona Meat Mkt!!)
1 1/2 C brown rice, cooked
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4 C chopped tomatoes (I used some CSA tomatoes I oven-dried & packed in EVOO)
2 tbsps chopped kalamata olives
2 tbsps toasted pine nuts
1 tbsps chopped herbs (I used mint & basil from my garden, parsley would be good too)
3 oz crumbled feta
1 large jar of tomato juice (I used low-sodium)

Step 1) In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients (except the grape leaves and tomato juice).  Use your hands to really knead the filling so that it becomes a nice homogeneous mixture.

Step 2) Open a grape leaf with the veins facing up.  Place an oval-shaped mound of filling near the stem-side of the leaf, like so:

Step 3) Roll the bottom (stem side) up over the filling, tuck the 2 lateral sides over, and continue rolling to the top of the leaf... burrito-style.

Step 4) Continue this until you are out of filling and have consumed about 2 glasses of wine.

Step 5) For me, this was Day #2... it was already 9pm by the time I got done rolling all the leaves on Day #1 so I just packed them in a storage container and stuck them in the fridge.  

Tightly place all of the rolls into the bottom of a pot, then cover them with the tomato juice.  Place a plate over them inside the pot so that they don't unravel and/or float around in the juice.

I know this is a terrible picture... just wanted to give you and idea what it looks like

Step 6) Let them simmer over low heat for approximately 3 hours.

I served these with a salad, pita, and some homemade hummus.  They would probably be pretty good over orzo as well.  So good, even Boyfriend liked them, and he was pretty hesitant when I brought up the whole "we're having grape leaves for dinner" conversation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Clam Chowder, The Black Pearl Style

Last summer Boyfriend and I went to a wedding in Newport, Rhode Island.  I hadn't ever been there before and let me tell you... it was AMAZING.  The mansions.  The ocean.  The Black Pearl's World Famous Clam Chowder.

Now, there was a lot of hype leading up to this bowl of chowder.  A. LOT.  I was prepared to be disappointed actually.  Don't get me wrong, I love clam chowder.  Every time people come to visit I make sure they get 2 things - clam chowder and a lobster roll.  Its New England for god's sake!

However, I have to admit....

It was shut-your-mouth-smack-your-mama-I-refuse-to-share GOOD.  I had not, and since have not, had chowder this good ever.  It's not super-thick they way I normally see it here and it had lots of dill and a hint of booze... maybe sherry?  I wish I could have brought some home with me.  I should have.  Although... I'm not 100% convinced it would have made the 2 hour trip back safely.  I mean, hell, we still had a wedding to go to and there was no way that chowder would have survived our state of debauchery.  4am drunk and hungry?  No. Way.

I've never actually made clam chowder before so I figure hey, why not tackle the most amazing, unreproducible chowder ever?  Why not?


1/4 stick of butter
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into smallish cubes
2 cans of minced clams, with juice
2 cup light cream
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
2 shot glasses dry vermouth
2 tsp dried parsley
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
2 tbsps dried dill weed, or more to taste

Cook the bacon until nice and crispy.  Add the butter and chopped onions to the bacon/grease and saute until the onion is starting to soften. Add the parsley, dill, clam juice, and potatoes, and just enough water to cover all ingredients. Simmer 15-20 minutes until potatoes are cooked but not mushy.  Add the cream, milk and vermouth. Heat just a little more so the cream does not cool it. Add the minced clams when you're almost ready to serve it to make sure they don't get too tough.  Taste.  Season. Taste again.  *Note: if you like your chowder a little thicker you can either make a roux using flour and butter or mix a little cornstarch with water and add that to your chowder before adding the clams and let it thicken your chowder.

I had this for lunch the next day and I have to say, it re-heated very very well.  Boyfriend liked it but said he would have added more dill and less potatoes.  Also that there wasn't any bacon in the original Black Pearl chowder.  Whatever.  I thought it was f-ing delicious and my favorite chowder recipe so far.  I might toy with it in the future... add fresh clams instead of canned, etc etc.... but I think this is the only style of chowder I plan to make for a long, long time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fettuccine with Shrimp in a Tomato, Olive, and Feta Cream Sauce

I had a revelation this weekend... fresh pasta is SO. MUCH. BETTER. than the dried stuff.

During prime tomato season on the farm, I oven-dried a bunch of tomatoes with whole garlic cloves and thyme, then let them marinate in olive oil and fresh-from-my-herb-garden basil for about a week.  Oven-drying tomatoes isn't hard, it just heats up your kitchen and takes a couple hours.  Store-bought sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil would be a great substitute.

And this dish is super-fast.  I mean, seriously, it was ready in T-minus 20min.

1 pkg fresh fettuccine
1/2 lb shrimp
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C dried tomatoes (oil-packed), roughly chopped
3 tbsp oil-brined black/kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1/2 C greek yogurt
1/4 C crumbled feta cheese
3 tbsps chopped herbs, I used mint and basil from my herb garden
sprinkle of crushed red pepper, optional
These are, of course, estimates in measuring... use your eyes and tastebuds as a guide.

1) Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2) Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp and cook until just barely done (2min per side?).  Remove shrimp and put to the side.
3) Add the garlic and tomatoes (with oil) and optional red pepper to the previously shrimp-y pan and heat through over med/med-low heat. 
4)  When that's all nice, warm, aromatic and incorporated, add the yogurt and olives.  Let this simmer on a low burner while you cook the pasta. And that's the great thing about fresh pasta, it only takes 3-4min MAX.
5) When the pasta is al dente, add it to the sauce skillet with ~1/4C starchy pasta liquid.  
6) Add the shrimp and 2 tbsps chopped herbs.
7) Stir, mix, smell.  It should come together into something magical.
8) Top with crumbled feta.  Give it one more mix and serve, sprinkled the the remaining tbsp of mint/basil.

This dinner turned out better than I could have ever expected considering I made it up on the fly with ingredients sitting around in my fridge.  I hope you find time to try some fresh pasta, it really does make a dramatic difference.

Look how GREAT my mint and basil is doing!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge - Canning & Preserving

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
In case you didn't know, I've been super-busy this month, with travel every weekend in addition to the start of the school year & teaching responsibilities.  Whew!  
At least I was able to complete my Daring Cooks Challenge this month, using fresh apples from my CSA (great timing!)

Apple Butter
2 lbs peeled and cored apples, roughly chopped
2 tbsps honey
1/4 C apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
a pinch of nutmeg

Add the apples, honey (or sugar) and vinegar to a saucepan over medium heat.  I didn't use as much sweetner as the recipes called for because my super-fresh apples were already pretty sweet (thanks Stillmans!).  I let that cook for 20 minutes or so until the apples looked more like apple sauce than individual apples.  I then added the spices and used a stick-blender to incorporate everything and smooth out my sauce.  

Let that cook for another 30min or so until you have a thick, dark brown, tasty apple butter.  The trick is to plop a spoonful of the apple butter onto a cold plate and see if it releases any juices.  If it holds its shape and doesn't ooze everywhere, you have yourself some fruit butter!

I will start posting more often as soon as my schedule calms down (and I get a new computer... my personal one died... sad).  Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Restaurant Week!

So, I realize I haven't posted anything in quite some time... but that's because 


Oh my absolute favorite time of the year.... I get to eat at super nice restaurants and not break the bank!

So, I brought my camera with me to each restaurant I've been to so far, but I can't seem to bring myself to actually whip it out in the middle of dinner to take pics of my delicious, yummy, well-presented, amazing food.  I'll try to be a little more ballsy in the future.

Dinner #1:

Boyfriend and I had a wonderful time at Union.  The decor reminded me of a Chicago saloon with dark walls and black pleather booths.  Our server, Jesse, was outstanding and the food... oh the food!

I started with a few sliced ripe melon wedges wrapped in prosciutto with fresh mozzarella.  Melon is the epitome of summer and I love the way salty prosciutto really complements its sweetness.  Boyfriend started with the chilled local peach and tomato gazpacho.  I took special notes on this one since my CSA box has been overflowing with peaches and tomatoes the past couple of weeks. 

For our entrees, Boyfriend got the char-grilled marinated hanger steak
with blue cheese stuffed roma tomatoes and grilled smashed potatoes.  The blue cheese stuffed tomatoes were incredible.  I really liked this presentation versus the typical blue-cheese-on-top-of-the-steak thing you normally see at steakhouses.  The steak was cooked to a perfect med-rare.  Yum!  As you can imagine, I only got one tiny bite of Boyfriend's dinner :)  

I got the oven roasted cape bluefish with spicy watermelon pickle charred sweet onions, grilled summer corn and basmati rice pilaf. Bluefish is one of those fishes that I don't get very often so I was excited to see it on the menu. It's hard to find in the stores and most of the time I'm too lazy to haul myself down to the fish pier to get anything fresh. My fish was cooked perfectly and the spicy watermelon relish gave a surprising kick!  The pilaf blew my mind!  It was soooo good.  I'm going to try to re-create it at home... stay tuned!

For dessert, Boyfriend was drooling over the strawberry ice cream soda
with house made syrup, fresh berries and cream
, as he should!  It came out in a big mug and the fresh strawberry flavor and aroma just oozed out. I was quite jealous.  I ordered the raspberry spiked chocolate brownies
with pistachio ice cream
but unfortunately, I somehow got the bread & butter pudding with roasted peaches and vanilla ice cream.  I was slightly bummed because pistachio ice cream is a gift from God!  My personal opinion :)  However, the bread pudding was pretty amazing, so no serious complaints here.

To drink, we got a bottle of 2007 Valpolicello, Corte Rugolin (Veneto,Italy).  I picked this because the method used to make Valpolicello is similar to that used to make my favorite wine ever, Amarone.  It was superb!  It had a nice, relatively high acidity and moderate tannins, and I got dark berries and hints of bitter almond on the palate.  I'm sure it paired better with Boyfriend's steak than my fish, but I certainly wasn't complaining.

Looking ahead, we'll be dining at Beacon Hill Bistro, Tremont 647, and EVOO.  Have I mentioned how much I love Restaurant Week?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shells with Arugula, White Beans, and Mushrooms

I got to make myself a quick & healthy dinner the other night because Boyfriend was in New York for work.  Not that I don't make quick & healthy stuff when he's here... its just that trying to pull off a vegetarian dinner usually results in a predictable, "this would be better with chicken" -type of comment.

Pasta (shells, farfalle, orecchiette would all work great)
Cremini mushrooms, sliced
Small white beans
Olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
truffle oil, optional

1) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Once boiling, add your pasta of choice and cook until al dente (check the box's directions).
2) Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet.  Add the mushrooms and let them cook and caramelize for about 5min.  Try to resist the urge to stir constantly, you'll get better "crispy" bits if you just let them cook without messing with them too much.
3) When the mushrooms are almost done, add the white beans, arugula, and ricotta and cook until heated through.
4) Add the al dente pasta to the mushroom-ricotta mixture and mix.  If the sauce seems a little dry, add a little of the starchy pasta water to loosen things up.
5) Season with salt & pepper, drizzle with the optional truffle oil and enjoy.

I drank a nice white blend with my dinner, which was nice because it didn't overpower the delicate flavors in my bowl.  I also think a nice light Pinot Noir would have complemented the mushrooms, truffle oil, and peppery arugula.

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