Friday, April 11, 2014

to make it better


This beautiful Friday morning thinks it's Monday. I had to drop off my car at the repair shop because the suspension has gotten so bad I can't hear myself text over it. Then, home for last-minute expense itemizations for my tax appointment. And then, about an hour after I had left my trainer's gym, I realized my shorts were on both inside-out and backwards.

Honestly. The only antidote to this day is Peanut Butter Waffles. They smell more peanut butter-y than they taste, but there were delicious bites occasionally where the blender hadn't done that great of a job combining the peanut butter with the rest of the ingredients. Because of that, I think I'd use crunchy peanut butter next time just to get more bits of flavor in.

Peanut Butter Waffles
from Martha Stewart
makes 6 waffles


1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
6 T. creamy peanut butter
2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
sliced bananas and maple syrup, for serving

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a blender, blend the melted butter and peanut butter until smooth, 1 minute. Add the buttermilk and eggs, and blend until combined, 1 minute. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until batter is combined.

2. Brush waffle iron with butter and pour in 3/4 c. batter. Cook until waffles are golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer waffles to rack in low oven to keep warm; repeat with remaining batter. Serve with bananas and maple syrup.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

it doesn't get better than this



A couple weeks ago, a boys' weekend ski trip ended in our good buddy's torn ACL. An ACL that was finally surgically repaired this morning before the sun came up.

After I dropped Greg off at the hospital, I hit the gym to make up for what I was about to do. Make this Chorizo Mac + Cheese for the boys' dinner since I knew I was going to be working late tonight.

It's been a long time since I've gone into hyperbole about a mac and cheese, but all that hyperbole was waiting for was this. It's all pretty straightforward here - spicy, flavorful chorizo and nearly 2 pounds of cheese - but somehow completely perfect. You 100% cannot go wrong. It makes everything better, and bonus - will put you in a food coma even if you've over-caffeinated your Hump Day like I did today.

Chorizo Mac + Cheese
slightly adapted from The Amateur Gourmet
serves 8

1 lb. penne
1/2 lb. fresh Mexican chorizo
4 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 c. milk
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar, shredded

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and return to pot.

2. Squeeze the chorizo out of their casings and break into bite size pieces. Cook the chorizo in a large pan until well browned, about 10 minutes. Mix the chorizo and Cotija cheese in with the drained pasta, and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.

4. In the same pan you used to cook the chorizo, melt the butter. Add the flour, and stir until a light-brown roux is created. Add the milk, and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon. Add the cheddar in large handfuls, stirring until melted before adding the next batch. Reserve about 1 c. of cheese for topping.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, and stir all around to coat. Top with the reserved cheddar. Bake for 25 minutes or until crispy brown on top. Allow the dish to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

lots of herb



This photo makes me incredibly happy. It incorporates all of my favorite things in life:
- dinner parties
- basil
- mint
- a theme

Not pictured: our pretty friends Kathryn and Leslie, and Leslie's Frenchie puppy, aka Duchess' new boyfriend. I mean:


I'm surprised we managed to get any work done with all of the cuteness going on around us. I can barely finish this post - I can't stop staring at the pups.

But work we did - a massive meal that really should have involved at least 4 other people to help eat. Kathryn came up with a theme of basil and mint, and I went to town menu planning.

Clockwise from top:

Kale Salad with Avocado Basil Dressing
The garden is completely overrun. We're alternating between kale, spinach and lettuce for dinner just to keep up. This salad dressing called for the kale - really assertively tart, but rich from the avocado. 

Pesto Carbonara
I used to call it Creamy Pesto Pasta, but Pesto Carbonara is more accurate and descriptive. But, a rose by any other name... One of my favorite things on the planet. Made better with homemade pasta. 

Shiso-Pork Belly Rice Balls
slightly adapted from Nippon Nin
makes 20 rolls

1 1/2 c. cooked sushi rice
1 lb. thinly sliced pork belly, about 20 2x4-inch strips
10 shiso leaves, halved lengthwise
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. mirin
1 T. rice vinegar

1. Lay half a shiso leaf on a slice of pork belly. Place 1 T. cooked rice at the short end, and roll up. Repeat with all of the pork belly.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet at medium heat. Place the rolled up rice balls seam-side down in the skillet. Brown in batches. about 45 seconds per side.

3. If a lot of fat has rendered, remove the pan from heat, and blot dry with a paper towel. 

4. Combine the soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Turn the heat back on then pour in the sauce. Gently roll the meat wrapped rice to coat all over. Cook until the sauce is almost evaporated. Serve immediately.

Although they were beautiful, I'd have to say the rice balls were the most disappointing. My main gripe was the lack of flavor, which is shocking considering that bacon and shiso are so flavorful on their own. However, this was just natural pork belly and not actually delightfully salty bacon, and the soy-mirin sauce couldn't stand up to the ball of rice in the middle. I would suggest seasoning the rice aggressively first, and then just worry about using the sauce to season the outside.


Crostini with Peas, Mint + Burrata
slightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 4-6 as an appetizer

12 slices of baguette bread
1/2 garlic clove
1 c. fresh or frozen peas, thawed
salt to taste
2 T. olive oil
2 balls of burrata
torn mint
a few drops of balsamic vinegar

1. Toast the bread and rub with garlic clove.

2. Blanch the peas in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes for fresh peas and 1 minute for frozen.

3. Drain peas; transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Season with kosher salt and extra-virgin olive oil, and process to a rough puree.

4. Spread about 1 T. of the mixture over each toast. Garnish with burrata, torn mint, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

I think we could have all made an entire meal out of this crostini. The peas were so light and fresh, and even though the burrata holds all of the calories in the world, each bite was worth every one of those calories.

Minted Braised Lamb Shanks
slightly adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising
serves 4-6

4 lamb shanks, about 1 lb. each
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. coarse salt
6-7 oz. fresh mint, about 4 cups packed leaves, plus extra for garnish
7 c. water
2 T. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine or dry white vermouth

1. If the shanks are covered with a tough, parchment-like outer layer, trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peel back the layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t peel off any of the thin membrance – this holds the shanks together and will melt down during braising. Put the shanks in a non-reactive bowl or deep dish.

2. Pluck the mint leaves and tender stems from the bunches and wash and drain them. Combine the mint, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add ½ cup water and process to a coarse puree. Pour the mint puree over the lamb. Add the remaining 6 ½ cups water to cover the shanks completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days. Give the shanks a stir once during brining to ensure that they brine evenly.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

4. Remove the shanks from the brine and pat dry on paper towels; never mind if there are bits of mint stuck to the lamb. Strain the brine, reserving the mint puree. Save 1 cup of the brine, discarding the remainder.

5. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the lamb shanks and brown them on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the shallots, and let them brown for 1 minute.

6. Pour in the reserved mint puree, reserved brine and the wine. Stir as best as you can to spread the mint around, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so the paper nearly touches the lamb, and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot onto a rack in the lower third of the oven, and braise for an hour. Turn the shanks and continue braising until the shanks are fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, another hour to hour and a half.

7. Remove the shanks to a large platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into a small saucepan, discarding the solids. Skim off the surface fat, and if the liquid is not salty enough, boil to reduce. Serve with shanks.

Matty declared this the best lamb he'd ever had. The meat was incredibly tender, and the mint really balanced the gamey-ness well. Mint is such an expected pairing with lamb, but this version, with the mint braised right in with the meat, was subtle but effective. 

We meant to end the night with a mint ice cream pie, but we were all over-stuffed. I only managed to sneak the teeniest spoonful of ice cream after the gals (and Griz) left.  (Who am I kidding? I had a whole bowlful. There's always room for ice cream).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

i need something more


Winter in LA was exactly 4 days long this year. The exact 4 days we visited Matty's parents for his dad's birthday. In the Florida Keys. Where I basically lived in a bikini, snorkeling and stand-up paddle boarding, aka basically drifting down to Cuba.

That was a week ago, and frankly, I was a little sad to have missed the LA rain. So when I heard it was going to dip into the 50's (gasp) tonight, I tried to conjure up winter with this very warming meal.

It's really more risotto than porridge - I imagine even more so once in leftover form. And it's quite good - flavors are there, and there is something vastly satisfying about making your own curry - but if this was actually winter, I'd want something a little more solid with it. Some poached chicken or shrimp would be ideal.

Green Curry Porridge
slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks
serves 6-8

2 T. olive oil
2 T. fresh lemongrass, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T. ground coriander
1 3/4 c. uncooked brown rice
5 c. water
4 t. salt
1 14-oz. can full-fat coconut milk
1 T. minced ginger, peeled
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 c. cilantro, plus more for serving
1/2 c. green onion tops (reserve the bottoms for serving)
1 c. spinach
2 T. lime juice
12 oz. cubed butternut squash

1. Combine the olive oil, lemongrass, garlic, coriander and rice in a large pot. Stir constantly until the rice kernels are toasted and fragrant, 7-10 minutes. Add the water, slowly and while stirring. Stir in 2 t. of the salt, and let the soup simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 25 minutes or until the rice has cooked through and many of its grains have burst.

2. In the meantime, combine the coconut milk, ginger, jalapeno, cilantro, green onion tops, spinach, lime juice and remaining 2 t. of salt in a blender. Blend until smooth, then taste and adjust, if needed. Add the herbed coconut milk, along with the squash, to the porridge. Simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.

3. To serve, ladle the porridge into bowls and top each with chopped green onion, a small heap of chopped cilantro, and a wedge of lime.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

it's so easy, it's so right


Last-minute dinner guests, listen up. This is what I'll be feeding you from here on out. Nothing simpler, nothing finer. Nutty brown butter sweetened up by my favorite tomatoes, Kumato, poured over perfectly seared salmon, and a delightful plate or arugula. It's sauce, it's dressing, it's perfect.

Salmon with Arugula + Tomato-Anchovy Brown Butter
slightly adapted from Suzanne Goin's The A.O.C. Cookbook
serves 2

2 8-oz. fillets of salmon
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 T. thyme leaves
2 T. parsley
2 oz. arugula
2 T. olive oil
4 T. butter
1 lb. kumato tomatoes, seeded and diced
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Season the salmon with the lemon zest, thyme and parsley. Set aside.

2. Divide the arugula between two plates.

3. In a skillet large enough to fit all the tomatoes in one layer, melt the butter. Cook over medium-heat until browned. Add the tomatoes, and turn off the heat. Set aside.

4. In a clean skillet, heat the olive oil. Cook the salmon, skin side down for 4 minutes, then flip and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

5. Top the arugula with the salmon, and then pour over the tomato-anchovy brown butter. Serve immediately.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

tart



I love a theme. And beyond loving a theme, I love committing to a theme. My senior year in college, the BFF and I threw some pretty epic theme parties. We occasionally moved major pieces of furniture into our bedrooms to properly decorate the living area. I was recently reminded of a "Rockstars and Groupies" party that involved an ill-advised blonde wig and a bikini top over a tank top. It's memories like those that make hold my breath every #TBT.

I don't know why all of my stories have been about college lately. Feeling strangely nostalgic these days.

Anyway. The adult version of these theme parties revolve around dinner. I used to get my themed dinner kicks with my Cooking Club, but I'm trying to turn my years-old resolution of Sunday Suppers into ingredient-centric meals. The first one tonight - rhubarb.

Rhubarb is a great theme. It's spring-y, it's delicious, and pardon the girliness, but it's pretty.

We started with our friend Tammy's arugula-strawberry salad with rhubarb vinaigrette. Well, actually, we started with rhubarb sangria, which was absolutely divine. I'm falling asleep on my keyboard as I type this because nothing puts me to sleep faster than sangria, but it's divine.

But anyway, back to the salad. I could eat buckets of this every day. Fresh from the rhubarb, sweet from the strawberries, rich from the goat cheese, but still oh-so-virtuous with the arugula.

The less-virtuous would be this pork belly, but the mouth-puckeringly tart rhubarb-ginger compote cut the fat nicely. It's definitely overwhelming on its own, but with the pork, it's perfect. Makes me think of making ham sandwiches with the leftovers (like you'd make a Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce). There were plenty of leftovers, too - I'd say the 6 of us only used up about a third of the compote.

To round out the meal, because I am always worried that I don't have enough food for my dinner guests, I made lentils with caramelized onions and rhubarb. Frankly, this was kind of meh - the only trace of rhubarb was in a slightly acidic flavor to the lentils. If I hadn't made it myself, you could have told me it was lemon, and I wouldn't have questioned it. It did it's job, but I kind of wish I had remembered to get buttermilk to make the rhubarb biscuits I found online that Matty really wanted.

We wrapped up the evening with John's strawberry-rhubarb cake a la mode. It's one of my favorite things, and was the perfect exclamation mark to a lovely dinner. All the work he puts into it is his secret, but if he wants to share it in the comments, I'd be happy to approve it!

Pork Belly with Gingery Rhubarb Compote
from Food52
serves 6

For the pork belly:
3 lbs. pork belly
2 T. fresh thyme leaves
2 T. sugar
2 T. salt
1 T. black pepper
1 medium onion, sliced into half moons
1 c. dry white wine

For the compote:
1 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. golden raisins
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 T. drained capers
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch black pepper
1 lb. rhubarb, trimmed, sliced 1/2-inch thick

1. Using a sharp knife, score the pork belly skin in a crosshatch pattern at about 3/4-inch intervals, taking care not to cut into meat. Mix thyme, sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub thyme mixture on both sides of pork. Place pork in a large resealable plastic bag, seal bag, and chill at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

2. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Arrange onion in bottom of a large heavy pot with a lid. Rinse pork and place fat side up on top of onion; add wine. Cover pot; place in oven and braise pork, basting occasionally, until fork-tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Uncover pot and cook until meat is very tender and fat starts to crisp and turn golden brown.

3. Combine all of the compote ingredients in a medium skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until rhubarb is tender and liquid is syrupy, about 15 minutes.

4. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Remove the pork belly only onto a roasting rack and finish off in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the skin is completely crisp.

5. When the pork is done, let it rest, tented in foil for 10 minutes. Slice the pork and serve it with the compote.

Lentils with Rhubarb + Caramelized Onions
slightly adapted from My Little City Food Garden
serves 6


1 medium onion, diced
2 T. coconut oil
1 c. finely diced rhubarb
1 1/2 c. French green lentils
3 c. veggie stock
3 springs fresh thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh spring herbs for garnish

1. Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Add the onions, and sauté, stirring occasionally until onions are caramelized golden brown, about 20 minutes.

2. Add the rhubarb, lentils, stock and thyme, and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer until all the liquid has evaporated and lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh parsley, chives, tarragon, or whatever other fresh spring herbs you have on hand.

Rhubarb Sangria
slightly adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen
serves 8

1 Asian pear, peeled and diced
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 blood oranges, peeled and diced
2 stalks rhubarb, sliced
4 t. pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
2 bottles Spanish red wine

1. Combine all of the ingredients, except the wine, in a medium saucepan. Simmer until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Pour the contents of the saucepan into a pitcher. Top off with wine, and stir well. Refrigerate until cold, then serve over ice cubes.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

super chicken


I don't always eat chicken, but when I do, it should be in this Ottolenghi salad.

The best part was really the chicken. Instead of just searing it on a grill pan and baking it off, Matty put it in a smoker box on our grill. So much flavor for so little work. Oh, and I used chicken thighs. Because life is too short to pretend you like chicken breast.

The salad is endlessly adaptable. I'd go easy on the fennel - I love fennel, but didn't feel it was very well balanced with all of the delicate herb elements in the rest of the salad. Start with one bulb of fennel, add your herbs, and then decide if you need more fennel. The herbs are just so nice, they should be their own star. It made me slightly nostalgic - it tastes a lot like a plate full of pho accoutrements.

I will say, though, that I wasn't sure the orange paste was worth the time it took to cook down. The flavor was refreshing, but I think it could also be achieved by a simple vinaigrette of orange juice and olive oil. However, if you're going to spend an hour proofing dough for Sesame Flatbreads anyway, why not?

The flatbread, though, was completely worth all of the time it took. I was initially afraid it was going to be too doughy, but the thickness was really a nice departure from your standard pita bread. A good one to have in the arsenal for lunch purposes.

Saffron Chicken + Herb Salad
slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem: A Cookbook
serves 4-6

1 orange
2 1/2 T. honey
1/2 t. saffron threads
1 T. white wine vinegar
1 1/4 c. water
2 lbs. skinless boneless chicken thighs
4 T. olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1/3 c. cilantro leaves
1 c. shiso or basil leaves, thinly sliced
15 mint leaves, thinly sliced
2 T. lemon juice
1 jalapeno, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the grill.

2. Trim and discard 1/2 inch off the top and tail of the orange, and cut it into 12 wedges, keeping the skin on. Remove any seeds. Place the wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron, vinegar and just enough water to cover the wedges. Bring to a boil, and simmer gently for about an hour. At the end, you should be left with a soft orange, and about 3 T. of thick syrup; add water during the cooking if the liquid gets very low. Use a food processor to blitz the orange and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; again, add water if needed.

3. Mix the chicken thighs with half of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and grill until done.

4. Dice the chicken into large cubes, and place in a large mixing bowl. Pour over half the orange paste, and stir well. Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the olive oil, add toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and if needed, more olive oil and lemon juice.

Sesame Flatbreads
from Serious Eats
makes 8 flatbreads

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T. sesame seeds
1 t. salt
1/8 t. sugar
1 t. instant yeast
3/4 c. warm water
1 t. olive oil

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sesame seeds, salt, yeast and sugar. Add water and stir together until mixture comes together. Form dough into a ball and knead for 3 minutes. Coat ball of dough with olive oil, place in a clean bowl, cover with a dish towel, and let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

2. When dough has doubled, take from bowl and knead for 1 minute. Pull apart into 8 pieces (approximately 2 oz. each). On a clean, lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough until it is 1/4-inch thick. It doesn't have to be a perfect circle. Continue with remaining dough, loosely stacking them on a place or baking sheet if necessary.

3. Place griddle or large, shallow pan over high heat until a fleck of water dropped onto the surface sizzles. Place one flatbread on pan and let cook until browned in spots, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip and cook on other side until slightly puffed and cooked though, about another 1 1/2 minutes. Place flatbread on a plate and cover with a dish towel to keep warm while you cook the remaining dough. Serve warm.