23 November 2009

pork rillettes ... the beginning

And it begins... It's time to start the 2 day process of making Jaques Pepin's Pork Rillettes, a delicious spread that my colleague jtw first introduced to me (and charceuterie. gasp, i know) in 2006. John's recipe is slightly different than Pepin's but tried and true, so while paying homage to the master chef (Pepin), I'm going to follow jtw's.

First things first, acquire a boatload of pork belly (4 lbs for jtw's recipe). Done (and oh what a marvelous sight it is. Gush gush gush).

Then chop into 2" cubes, and toss into a pot or Dutch oven with half a head of garlic, and enough water to cover the meat by about 1-2". Add a few TB of salt, but not too much, and a few shakes of pepper. You'll season this later. Now, put on a very, very, low simmer and cook for 6-8 hours until fat has rendered. There may be some skimming involved if you'd care to, but it's not vitally important (so says jtw).

Once the fat, refrigerate for at least 12 hours.

And that, my friends, is what I'm waiting for currently. Still with 2 hours to go of simmering, I'll be back tomorrow with more on Operation Pork Rillettes.

Do stay tuned. I highly recommend it. ;)

22 November 2009

Coming soon ...

Look at that beauty. I mean really now, 4.4 lbs of pork belly deliciousness, just calling out "rilletes! rilletes!" Or just calling out to me. Ya never know. Let me dream.

OK, maybe not, and maybe just maybe I should be focusing on buying my turkey for Thanksgiving (yes, I'm hosting/cooking this year), but really, let's just pause for a moment to appreciate the finer things in life.

Like this.

Take a moment with me now.

Oooo and ahhh. Get giddy (I sure am). Imagine the creaminess of the pork rillettes on fresh honeydew. Or the tang when served with reduced balsamic and whole grain mustard. Forget about the turkey and stuffing for a moment and just imagine with me.

Pork belly is one of the things in life that make me melt. Boys, take notes. This here is one of the few things that if done properly can woo me. Take that as a freebie. Who needs anything else, really?

THIS, my friends, is the life. Stay tuned for Operation Pork Rillette (ala Jacques Pepin, as modified by Wilbanks).

02 November 2009

Halloween, continued

As promised, costume #2 (less food related) ... a spelling bee. Yup, I went there.

Here's to November!

31 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

From the first costume of the weekend ... Susie Homemaker. Happy to say this is often how I look, on non-Halloween themed occasions ;)

Happy Halloween foodies. Get your ghoul on.

(also, costume #2 coming tonight. stay tuned)

30 October 2009

Turkey Hash

I love using leftovers, especially when they're delicious ones like roasted turkey.

Kickin' off the morning with a hearty turkey hash, using some more of that slow roasted turkey, a quick cooked potato (poke holes, 2.5 minutes on high, then flip, 2.5 more minutes), red onion, turkey bacon, cheddar cheese and chives. Add a little broth or turkey drippings if you have it, some chili powder, salt and pepper and there ya go. Bliss on a plate.

Happy Friday :)

Soup, continued

My endeavor earlier this week, and the subject of the last post here, left me with a Costco amount of homemade poultry stock (turkey + chicken).

Recipe #1 was inspired again by Elise's Mom's Turkey Soup, so I started to shred some turkey, chop up onions, carrots, celery and some tomatoes and let them become friends again.

The second soup I first made last year when I was living in the Back Bay, and just realized I may have inadvertently made it one year to the day that I first tried it. Either way, there's no reason we can't revisit favorites, and now we can add the photo (from last year, so apologies for the photo quality. I had yet to get my EOS xTI).

Last year, I used leftover frozen tom yum soup broth so it had a wonderful lemongrass undertone but also quite a kick from the Thai chiles Sam and I used. I really liked the spice, and replicated this time (sans chiles) with a few dashes of Sriracha.

Ten Minute Couscous Soup with a kick
Adaapted from Heidi @ 101Cookbooks

(KT note ... looks like I first made this soup the exact day Heidi posted it, then again this year, also on the 26th. Bizarre. Hm. :) )

7 cups great-tasting broth - in my case turkey/chicken (can eyeball this)
2 or 3 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup regular couscous
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, cut into tiny pieces smaller than your thumb
1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets, cut into tiny pieces smaller than your thumb

Bring the stock to a boil with a few dashes of oil and the hot pepper flakes. When it comes to a boil, remove from heat and add the couscous. Wait two minutes, then add the broccoli and cauliflower. Wait another 2-3 minutes until the vegetables lose their raw edge and you're done! I added a few shots of Sriracha, but you can leave as is, add some sundried tomatoes and goat cheese or any other sort of topping you'd like. The soup is very forgiving, so have fun and play.

'Tis the season (for roasts and soup)

I tried to be clever, I really did.

The weather has finally shed the last of the hot, humid lackluster "summer" here in Boston - a summer that I frankly don't really remember. It happens when you frequent airports regularly enough to know the waitstaff and flight attendants (slight over exaggeration, but only slightly).

The fall is by far my favorite time of year, with winter being a close second. Growing up in the closest thing Western NY has to the tundra, you either accept the snow and grow a fondness for it, or start crafting your escape plan to the Carolinas or Florida as soon as you pass basic word recognition in elementary school. I was one of the former, as you can tell.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, one that I'll actually be hosting here in my little Brookline apartment this year and more importantly cooking for my out of town family. So when I saw a 1/2 bone in turkey breast at the supermarket, I plopped one in my basket and thought I'd start the turkey season a bit early. Heck, why not.

The prep was simple. Rough chop up some onions, and lay in the bottom of the pan with carrots and celery to make a rack. Mix together melted butter, garlic, (some people even call for mayo ... which seems interesting) and some herbs and rub under the skin and over the bird. Pour a little bit of stock over so there's some liquid in the pan, and into the oven it goes.

After 2 1/2 hours or so (I googled temperatures by pound), this was the result.

And ... it was perfectly cooked. Even after my jetlagged self fell asleep sitting up before 9 pm. Thank god for kitchen timers.

I had a craving for one of my favorite cranberry dressings, as well, so I started to toss ingredients into the food processor. A friend had brought two different dressings to a big Boston-based Thanksgiving we had in 2006 (and made a 23-lb bird, to boot) - one the traditional jam like cooked down version, and the other this delightful, fresh cranberry and orange relish. Just wasn't right calling it a "dressing".

Cranberry-Orange Relish

1/2 - 3/4 bag of fresh cranberries
1 orange, with rind, chopped into small pieces (unless you have a beast of a food processor)
2 TB of sugar
1/2 cup (or more to taste) of chopped walnuts

Put into food processor. Turn it on. And look, you're done :)

The result should be tart, a little bit but not too sweet, and finely chopped. This is perfect for turkey sandwiches, adding to yogurt, hell - I even put on top of cranberry chocolate chip pancakes (oh heck yes).

I had saved a roasted chicken carcass in my freezer (ah, travel. Thank god for pre-roasted things at the supermarket) to make stock, and after picking at the turkey here, decided to combine them both to make the monster pot of all pots of stock.

I followed Elise's Mom's recipe for stock, including a few other things to just plain clean out the fridge.

So in went Mr. Chicken Carcass, the turkey bones with a bit of meat still attached (I had plenty, so a little lost was fine to me), an onion, carrots, celery, peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, a mushroom bouillon (more on this magic ingredient from Italy later), and water to cover. I even added some leftover red wine, mushroom and bacon gravy (from operation pork schnitzel) just for kicks. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 4+ hours. Strain and there you go. Sometimes it needs a bit more salt or some other missing ingredient.

Added benefit, the smell that perfumes your house. This was almost reason enough to make. :) Soup recipes to come in the next post.

21 October 2009

Wordless Wednesdays: Italia (trieste, venezia)

The tale of two zucchini breads - which one reigns supreme?

I've been watching a wee too much Iron Chef. Secret ingredient here is zucchini.

It was the battle of sweet v. savory zucchini bread, one a recipe from Elise @ Simply Recipes, pitted against one from Hannah @ Honey & Jam.

I really wanted to like you, savory zucchini cheddar bread, I really really did. But it just wasn't in the cards. Was it the parsley + dill? The onions? Lack of sugar? I don't know. But alas, we're just not meant to be.

On the other hand, Elise's recipe for zucchini bread, which I put chocolate chips and dried cranberries in, was divine. And as a frequent zucchini bread maker with my trusted recipe, I can say that there's been a sub in the recipe card box, and Elise wins hands down.

Have a look for yourself ...

Here's the winning recipe, folks, brought to you by Elise at Simply Recipes. Well done, my dear. My hat's off to you (if I was wearing a hat). :)

Elise's Zucchini Bread

2 eggs, beaten
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups grated fresh zucchini
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in. Add the flour, a third at a time. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix. Fold in the nuts and dried cranberries or raisins if using.

Divide the batter equally between 2 buttered 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour (check for doneness at 50 minutes) or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

Makes 2 loaves.

Group dinners - Moqueca de peixe

So, blog readers (I'm going to pretend there are some out there. humor me), I have to let you in on a few tidbits about myself, and a secret. I swear, this'll be quick.

First off, I grew up with boys. Outside of two female cousins I saw quite frequently, the majority of my childhood was spent trying to fit in with my older brothers friends, and wondering why I didn't seem to be able to tolerate female nonsense. It took me years to accept that, treasure the select gal friends I had, and give up on the rest. :)

As a result, it's safe to say that about 75 - 80 percent of my close friends are men. No shocker there.

With that out of the way, on to the secret part. Not-so-secret part, we're busy people, between work, vacations, travel etc., it's often hard to get the same people in one room to catch up. My group of pals in Boston do this usually through some sort of orchestrated potluck or group dinner (once had a skirmish with a friend over negative connotations for the word "potluck". oy). And the secret here ... the majority of the guys out here are not only skilled engineers (I work at MIT) but incredible cooks.

I kid you not.

(photos compliments of mrwalter)

This past August called for one of these dinners, hosted at my place. I set out to make Moqueca de Peixe, a Brazilian fish stew, with saffron rice, and just for fun, some margarita cupcakes for dessert (recipe here). The moqueca couldn't be easier, as long as you have the special ingredient (dende oil, available in Latin markets) and we were good to go.

Also on the table was a barley mushroom risotto from Abe, a grapefruit and avocado salad from our french delegate Olivier :), a sweet corn + black beans + tomato salad from Matt, some guacamole from Sam and a number of desserts from Rick. In the past, they've brought whole roasts, fruit tarts made from scratch, pumpkin cobbler that was to die for, and the list goes on. We like good eats, what can I say.

All in all, one of my favorite way to catch up with people I love. Hands down.

With the story out of the way, on to the moqueca, which I highly recommend you try when you have a crowd to entertain.

Moqueca de Peixe (Brazilian fish stew)

Quantities in the recipe are relative, do what seems best for your pot. It's all about the layering in this one.

Serves 6-8 hungry men.

1.25 - 1.5 lbs of firm white fish and other seafood (I used swordfish tips, striped bass, and a few peeled jumbo shrimp at the end)
4 large tomatoes
2-3 peppers (I used red and orange)
A large onion, 2 if needed
Lime juice
Minced garlic (3 cloves or so)
2.5 cups coconut milk
3 TB dende oil
Salt and pepper
Spring onions
chilies, either diced, or use chile oil / hot sauce (I used chile oils from recent trip to Brazil)

Cut the fish into bite size pieces and place in a bag. Add the lime juice, salt, ground pepper, and minced garlic. Marinate fish 30 minutes to 2 hours (be careful it doesn't cook ceviche style).

Drizzle a bit of olive oil in heavy bottom pan. I used my pasta pot, which worked perfectly. Cut the vegetables into rings and layer half of them, peppers, tomatoes, onions, then some salt and pepper.

Add a layer of fish with the marinade (omitting the shrimp, since that cooks quickly, we can add that at the end).

Layer the vegetables again.

Meanwhile mix together the coconut milk, dende oil (it should be a nice reddish color), and chilies / chile oil. Pour over the vegetables and fish. I needed slightly more than 1 can of coconut milk, but you may not. The mixture cooks down, but you still want it to be stew-like.

Bring mixture to a boil, and simmer gently, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove cover and simmer for 25 minutes more, or until vegetables are well-cooked and tender. If you're adding shrimp, add in the last 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with chopped scallions before serving. Serve with rice (in my case saffron rice), fried plantains or whatever else you'd like as trimmings... like margarita cupcakes. Hell, why not?

03 October 2009

Rainy days

Today's one of those days in Boston where the sky repeatedly opens up and drenches the living daylights out of anything not covered. Best defined as a waterlogged day, where all you want to do is nap, in my case bake, and plunk yourself on a comfy sofa or chair with a hot toddy (above).

So instead of typing out the 3 recipes I tested out today (one I'm not so crazy about, but 2 for 3 ain't bad), I'm going to take a break from the regularly scheduled programming and do something fun... and a bit revealing about me. Are you excited? :)

And with that, time to go remove apron, wash flour off self, and change out of my PJs. I know, I'm sad about it too.

(borrowed from The Boastful Baker)

Last song I purchased from iTunes: Nomo's "Ghost Rock"

Made for dinner tonight: Well, for last night - spicy ramen to help kick my head cold. Sriracha has healing powers, I tell ya. Tonight I'm heading to a potluck / housewarming, relieving me of my dinner making duties for the evening.

Currently drinking: Actually just made myself a latte using a Tyler Florence method for frothing milk with an immersion blender, with a bit of vanilla sugar.

Playing on iTunes right this very second: "For Blue Skies" - Strays Don't Sleep

Currently reading: Study guides, and about 2 pages into Don Delillo's "Americana".

Laughing about: The fact that I started today with the intention of being really productive, and here I am at 4:27 pm wearing a frilly apron and pjs, covered in flour, and about to take another nap (#2 for the day) before heading to Rick's.

New to me, easy and delicious dessert I recently made: hands down, the Red Velvet double decker cake I made for my birthday. Not necessarily "easy" if you count being covered with food dye like war paint, but most delicious one of note made recently.

Song I can’t stop playing over and over and over again: "Colly Strings" - Manchester Orchestra

Currently knitting: Had a brief stint knitting when I was 19. And by brief, I mean maybe 2 weeks.

In need of: More hours in the day.

Playing on the iPod now: "Tonight" the acoustic version by Lykke Li (thanks to tfly).

Will soon attempt to learn: How to ace exams that will not be mentioned. Or to finally practice my guitar.

Not getting enough: Studying done. Sadly, life doesn't stop for that sort of thing. Oh, if I could just have a giant remote control for life.

Hyped up about: Fall. I love everything about it from pumpkin-related goodies, the weather, sweaters, hot toddies. Then again, hot toddies can almost always be justified.

Something I need to do tonight if it kills me: Get to Rick's housewarming pot luck.

Craving: Hmm, I just made what I was craving ... pork schnitzel with a red wine bacon mushroom gravy. And let me tell you ... it was awesome.

Trying to learn how to: better balance work and personal life, the latter not really existing much these days. But that's OK.

Something I thoroughly enjoy: Rainy days when all I have to do is nap, read, and nap some more. Mittens. Good single-malt. Surprises. Food-related / themed gifts.

Hell hath frozen over because: I've started running again. Started is loosely used here.

Best thing I’ve bought this month: Flyopen cardigans. Granted, they're just a heavier version of the other ones I have ... so my wardrobe is a bit bland, so shoot me.

What I might be for Halloween: I'm terrible at these sorts of things, outside of the year Nic and I went as the milkman (Nicole) and the pregnant house wife (take a guess).

Still bragging about: The four-course Christmas meal I made alone for 12. It's remarkable what a little anger can produce. Hopefully this Thanksgiving won't involve that component, but be just as delicious.

Looking forward to: Seeing Adam this week, Alex in 2 weeks in Italy, also ... for it to be December 6.

Not looking forward to: The impending aches and pains of my work schedule for the next 9 weeks. Body, please bear with me, and I apologize in advance.

Playing on the iPod now: "Lover, you should have come over" by Jeff Buckley.

Next up on the reading list: After Delillo, "Maggie Cassidy" by Kerouac.

Can’t believe: That it's almost time for Playoffs. :)

Absolutely, positively obsessed with: Trader Joe's Triple Gingersnaps (thanks to SJ), Dogfish Punkin, and the blue-cheese stuffed dates wrapped in fresh pepper bacon from Hop and Vine in Portland (thanks to Ross).

Must make time to: Study, clean, pack for the next two trips, and take care of a laundry list of items I've put off for the last mmm 6 months. Example: getting a bedframe / boxspring.

Trying to decide: Where and what I want to be in 5 years. Nothing like a big pie in the sky question for this rainy Saturday.

Last dessert I baked: Zucchini bread (and muffins) with chocolate chips and dried cranberries.

26 September 2009

Ginger Miso Poached Noodles with Mint

I'm a loyal follower of Heidi of 101Cookbooks, it's true, but often find myself grappling with the healthy substitutions of meatless products (ie., tofu, seitan, etc.)

Every six months of so, I like to challenge my distastes ... often to just realize why in fact I do not like them in the first place. Can't hurt to try, right?

Well, this is the tale of one of those nights, my friends. With extra-firm tofu in hand, I went about slicing and marinating with some soy sauce and other random seasonings, suggestions from one of my vegetarian friends, Steph. I'm sorry Steph, not even the delicious mix of flavors and grilling masked the texture. I tried though, I really did.

Anyways, chalking it up to a tofu loss, the rest of this dish was pretty damn fantastic and comforting, I must say. Rice noodles steeped in a ginger miso broth, dressed with some shelled edamame and mint. Summery, light, with a hint of a burn from the ginger and a shot of sriracha and a broth to slurp. Oh, and tofu that I quickly tossed. Can't win 'em all.

Ginger Miso Poached Noodles with Mint
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Rice noodles
Shelled edamame
2 TB miso paste
Thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Handful of mint
1/2 a lime

Heat water to cover the rice noodles on the stove, slowly incorporating the miso paste until well dissolved. Add the ginger slices to flavor the broth. When about to boil, add the noodles, take off the heat and leave covered for 7-10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked.

Meanwhile, cook and lightly salt the edamame. Shell if need be.

When noodles are cooked, drain a portion of the broth, leaving about a cup or two left. Add the edamame and the mint. Add a squeeze of lime. Stir and serve. I added a dash of sriracha, but that's just personal taste. Enjoy!

Mussels, mussels, mussels

Properly cooked mussels + a bread-dip worthy broth + a side of crispy frites + fresh aoili = bliss for me.

That's just one of the many equations to my heart. Boys, take notes.

My love affair with mussels began back in Caen, France in 2006 on the coast. Entertain me for a minute while I have a flashback.

First things first ... blogosphere, meet my (Italian) sister-friend, Sab (and a curlier, more ginger looking me).

It was my first trip abroad with my best friend, Sab. We headed off with one of her cousins to go join forces with her other family members in Paris. Zal and Rina, former Rochestarians, had relocated to Florence, Versailles and then settled in Paris, where they were based in 2006. They had met and fell in love while at university in Caen, where we had traveled to see some of their friends, visit Mont St. Michel, and have an epic seafood dinner on the coast as the sun set.

It was one of the most memorable sunsets I've ever seen. Luckily Adriano caught it on camera ...

Sab and I both ordered the pot of mussels, faced with over a pound for each of us. Looking back, we should have shared ... but what can you do. Sometimes a mussel overdose after a long day at the beach is needed.

They were out of this world, and the first time I'd had mussels. My aunt had tried to get me to taste some seafood growing up, but it wasn't anything we were ever served at home outside of a fish fry in Lent (to which, to this day, I'm not sure was fish). My mother detested most forms of seafood, and the look of disgust she made when oysters went by to another table stuck in my head. I had a phobia for all things from the sea. I admit it.

But I fell in love with these little things, to the point that they now represent the best pick me up for me now. As they did back this past July ...

I was stressed ... and my colleague knew it, outside of my general frustration voiced for not being able to find good mussels at the store. Lo and behold, just before the day closed, he snuck off to his house and came back with mussels on ice and beer to steam ... my own little mussels kit. And I have to say, it was *just* what I needed to cut through the stress and bad mood. Thanks TN :)

The broth I made was basic, including beer, some sprigs of thyme, a splash of wine and a pat of butter. I added the butter to the broth afterwards. Odd combo, I know, but I was experimenting. Delicious nevertheless ... now if only I had frites and aioli. Next time, next time ...

Peach & Strawberry Cobbler w/ Lemon Crust

Ah, cobbler. How I love thee. It's like the shepherd pie of desserts ... well, kind of. If you think of shepherd pie as the fridge-emptying solution that doesn't taste like complete garbage. Cobbler is somewhat like the fruity dessert version, IMO.

OK, so that made more sense in my head, humor me.

It was July, peaches were in season, strawberries were chopped and in my fridge, and as often happens, life during the week got surprisingly busy. Busy enough to throw my menu planning off and leaving me with produce about to turn.

I hate throwing things away or wasting food, by the way. It's a sort of affliction / mission in life, and leads to some very, um, interesting dishes and concoctions (ie., the jalapeno jam I have 6 jars of in my cupboard. Any takers? Please?)

The peaches were meant for a dinner party as dessert, with a fate including halving, a balsamic and brown sugar glaze, grilling and creme fraiche.

Then someone brought a pie. And I love pie. Sorry peaches. Next time.

I have to say though, this cobbler had the perfect mix of sweet and tang, with the lemon crust cutting the potential sugary sweetness of mixing peaches and strawberries. And a nice recipe to add to the cobbler section of the cookbook in my brain alongside the winter version -- the black 'n blue.

I made mine up in my paella pan brought back for an ex that needless to say stayed in my possession. His loss ;)

Peach 'n Strawberry Cobbler with a Lemon Crust
Adapted from a 1999 Bon Appetit recipe

4 peaches, fresh preferred, canned are also OK. pitted and sliced
3 cups or so (eyeball it) of sliced strawberries
* rough estimates here ... fill the pan
1/3 cup sugar
dusting of cornstarch
sprinkling of lemon juice, about 1/2 a lemon

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix together the top set of ingredients so all fruit is covered. Dress with lemon juice.

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Beat butter and sugar together in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg yolk, lemon zest and vanilla. Add flour mixture and make into a dough-like substance. Form loosely over the fruit. Don't worry, it doesn't need to completely cover the cobbler, and in fact, shouldn't. It'll spread a bit when cooking, and you want it to bubble through a bit.

Pop in the oven and cook until the topping is lightly browned and the filling is bubbly, approximately 55 minutes.

Every 15 minutes it's breakfast ...

A colleague once told me this, after a brief moment commiserating with one another about how fast time flies. As time passes, this becomes even more true, and consequently, often leaving certain parts of my life poorly maintained. More often than not (or better yet, always) this is my personal life we're talking about. So is life.

Well, poor food blog -- you were the object of avoidance this time, I'm afraid to say. It's not that I *intentionally* lagged in posts. I've had a list of posts owed running for weeks, just in need of the time to sit down and focus. Time I thought would never come. My apologies for the silence, blog readers, if you're out there.

But never fear. I have a list, a plan (how I operate best), and with any luck, I can push through those and get the motivation to update this more often. The last few months have been oh so busy, with summer blowing past before I really realized it was ever *here*. There was the Alaskan trip to end all Alaskan trips, a milestone of a birthday, and more air miles in the past 3 weeks than a human should endure (16,500+?). All of which will be documented, I promise.

To start ... let's roll back the calendar a bit to July ...

23 July 2009

Sally sells sea shells by the seashore

Well, not quite. But I did have a craving for some sort of seafood - mussels or salmon specifically. Visions of the pot of mussels from Casa Delfin in El Born from my recent trip to Barcelona haunted me all afternoon. Ideas for super easy and delicious salmon dishes kept running through my head ... It was terribly distracting.

So, straight from work I headed to Whole Foods to check out what was available and scope some prices. Now, I don't cook seafood much if at all, so this was new territory to me ... but one I was determined to conquer. Oddly enough, for a place known for their pronunciation of "lobstaahhhh", Boston is relatively low on quality seafood restaurants and old-school fishmongers. Sometimes I wonder if I should move to the coast (and outside of the city) just to be closer to a dock. But I digress ...

Buying seafood is something I'm also a bit wary about. In lieu of going into Wulf's up further into Brookline, I headed to Whole Foods - in my book a worlds a difference from the offerings at Johnnie's (if their seafood counter even counts. gross.) and Shaws. For some reason, Whole Foods makes me feel a bit more at ease. Not sure why, but let's roll with it.

Sadly, after dreaming of the afore-pictured mussels, Whole Foods was completely devoid of them. Whether it was because of the latest area zebra mussel scare or just a slump in fishing in general, I have no idea. I tried not to cry too much at the counter, and pushed myself to still buy some formally living creature from the lagoon to make for supper.

Settling on a 7 oz. Atlantic salmon fillet, I trotted home, fish in hand, with some sage, thyme, and some yukon gold potatoes to roast ... prepared to recreate a recipe I saw on Paula Deen (with all fairness, it was her son Bobby's recipe) that looked easy, heart healthy (I'm shocked too) and scrumptious. Oh, and not even fried.

Lemon Herb Salmon in Foil

(I made this for one, but can very easily be multiplied, and is a very flexible recipe.)

7 oz. Atlantic salmon fillet
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 TB of butter
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 or so sprigs of thyme, de-sprigged :)
2 large sage leaves
lemon slices* to just cover the length of the salmon
salt and pepper
aluminum foil

* you can also use oranges, and I'm sure other citrus would work well too.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Finely chop up the spices and garlic. Lay the salmon fillet on a sheet of aluminum foil, enough to seal at the top and sides like a little packet.

Salt and pepper the salmon, then put the dollop(s) of butter on top. Sprinkle the garlic and herbs on that, topping with the lemon slices. I squirted some additional lemon juice on top, but it's not needed.

Seal up the little packet and toss in the oven on a baking sheet (or can be done on a grill) for about 14 minutes. You want the fish to be flaky and opaque. Be careful not to overcook.

I quick roasted* up some Yukon gold potatoes, seasoned with a little salt, pepper, chili powder, olive oil and herbs used for the salmon. Delicious little meal, I must say, with rich lemony buttery goodness accompanying the herbed salmon.

* Quick roasting ala Kaitlin (though this idea is not really all that new or novel :) ) Poke some holes into the potatoes, place on a plate and put in the microwave for 3 minutes. Turn after that, cook for another 3 minutes (slightly less or more depending on size and amount of potatoes ... since you're finishing these in the oven, don't want them to be fully cooked). Take out of the microwave, dice, season, and pop into a 375 degree oven while the salmon cooks. Once they have a bit of color and crust, remove.

28 June 2009

C is for Cookie

Some days just call for chocolate chip cookies. This past Saturday was one of those days. I had two dear friends from college coming over for dinner, have been stressed over work, and hell - for some reason I really craved a fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookie with some ice cream. Or a chipwich. You get the point.

I decided to venture away from my mother's famous chocolate chip cookie recipe and try Alton Brown's Chewy recipe, found over at chaos in the kitchen. With a few substitutions, I was all set to bake.

The cookies were very buttery (2 sticks of butter will do that), and didn't seem to hold up shape very well, or at least in my attempts. Also, since I don't usually keep a lot of milk in the house, used 2 TB of buttermilk in the recipe (shh, don't tell) and cut down the melted butter count by about 1 TB. For the chips, I added about 1.5 cups of chocolate chips and the rest of the 1/2 cup of peanut butter chips.

My grandmother's standing rule for making cookies and when to take them out of the oven didn't kick in until after batch 1. Her voice then popped into my head, and I remembered my mother explaining to me why we take the cookies out just before they look done, as she covered 3 counters of chocolate chip cookies for my brothers and I. Now, this doesn't work for all cookies, but I swear, for my mother's, it was like the secret ingredient (that, or shortening), and boy could she make cookies. They continued to bake on the counter out of the oven, she'd say. A trick she'd learned from her mother, whom I didn't know very well but I took my mother's word on it.

All in all, the cookies were delicious, but I may stick to the family recipe from now on.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (w/ a splash of peanut butter for good measure)
Adapted from Alton Brown and chaos in the kitchen

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp milk (* I used buttermilk, and took 1 TB out of the butter content up top ... try using the real stuff when ya can though :) )
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter chips.

Melt butter, add to mixing bowl. In another bowl combine flour, salt and baking soda. Add white and brown sugars to mixing bowl with butter. Cream butter and sugar together. I do this by hand (still haven't purchased the hand mixer). Mix in eggs, milk, and vanilla. Slowly add in flour until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and peanut butter. Chill dough until firm enough to scoop.

Preheat oven to 375° F. I recommend lining the sheets with parchment paper. Greasing the pan leaves for oily or burnt bottoms of the cookies, and with this much butter in the recipe, it seemed destined for disaster.

Bake for 9-11 minutes and allow to cool. Or just pop in a bowl with some ice cream (hey, sometimes, it just has to be done.)

Repurposing old coffee grounds. Diana this one's for you.

So, my yoga teacher's been on a bit of a compost rant for the last few weeks. She's phenomenal, and not too preachy or overly wacky - which some yoga teachers are. Her name's Diana and she's the tops. By far my favorite yoga teacher yet by a landslide.

She's been doing a lot of gardening, and recently discovered the world of self composting. It's garnered so much excitement that she's worked it into Sunday's classes as a lesson to "compost your soul". It makes me giggle, I'm not gonna lie.

Anywho, thought of Diana this week with all of her compost-ness, when I was making coffee of all things. My ex converted me to the world of french press coffee and electric kettles last year - a decision that not only freed up my counter a bit but also seems to have a bit more character. I dig. I was cleaning out the grounds as I normally do, when I got on the Googles and decided to see if there was something I could do with these. My apartment lacks a back yard, so composting in the traditional sense was out of the question.

What I did find was a facial treatment using the grounds and an egg white, that you let dry on your face. Supposedly the caffeine is supposed to work its magic, while the grounds exfoliate, all while helping you feel like a mud creature from a B-list horror movie. Hell, why not, right?

The texture was a bit coarser than usual, since I grind my own coffee a bit less than normal folks, but all in all an interesting experience. I'd recommend leaning over a sink or something for this whole process because it is a bit messy, with bits of coffee falling off your face, with the very serious potential of staining your clothes. But refreshing nevertheless, and a sight to see for anyone around, I'm sure. :)

27 June 2009

Oatmeal cookie pancakes with dried cranberries

Two things you may not know about me.

1. I often don a Susie-homemaker-polka dot-headband when I cook. And 2. I love Saturday mornings. Typically these two come together in some joyous union at the end of each work week. This was one of those weeks.

Depending on the week, I either get up and go to Haymarket early or go for a jog, then treat myself to a big breakfast. Sometimes it's Dutch baby pancakes, other weeks frittatas, or a breakfast burrito (if I happen to have a fiery salsa on hand).

Last weekend, I decided to give Joy the Baker's oatmeal cookie pancakes a try. I, like Joy, absolutely love pancakes of all shapes and sizes, from potato to buttermilk and beyond. I headed to the store to pick up some buttermilk, some eggs, splurging on some turkey bacon as well and headed home.

Now, buttermilk's a strange substance to me. I've never cooked with it before (shh, don't tell) and was really taken aback at the rich buttery smell of it. It makes sense, I realize, for butter-milk to have a buttery aspect to it, I know. I'm not that dumb. It's part of my liquid milk phobia, I swear.

(OK, the milk phobia for those that don't already know. Ever since I stopped drinking milk out of a bottle as a kid, the smell and the taste of liquid milk really give me the heebie jeebies, making me gag. Though I've gotten much better about cooking with it and what not, still, to this day, I cannot drink a glass of liquid milk. Flavor it however you want. I still can't take a gulp. Weird, I know.)

Either way, I gave this recipe a go, subbing in dried cranberries for the raisins. With a side of turkey bacon, this was top notch. Somewhat coma-enducing (even took an hour nap afterwards) but delicious nevertheless, and not overly sweet.

Alright featured ingredient ... let's put you to work.

Oatmeal Cookie Pancakes w/ Dried Cranberries
Adapted ever-so-slightly from Joy the Baker


2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
cooking spray

In a large bowl beat eggs. Add buttermilk, butter (cooled, or else you'll scramble the eggs), maple syrup and vanilla. Mix, mix, mix. Add flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Mix well until smooth, or as smooth as an oats batter can be. Fold in cranberries and let batter set for a few minutes.

Heat pan over medium heat. Spray the pan with some non-stick cooking spray and cook up the pancakes. It doesn't really get any simpler than that. Though, be careful ... if you're not used to cooking heartier pancakes, be careful the temp on the pan is just right, so that the pancakes don't brown while the middle is still raw.

The result: