Monday, December 21, 2009

Forget the Salad: Red Beans with Meat

"A pot of beans flavored with meat--sometimes just what you want." True. This recipe is not for the faint of heart--it includes both ham hocks and sausage. I was hoping it'd be like the beans at Margon, my favorite Cuban spot in NYC.

I didn't soak the beans, so they took forever (at least I think that's why they took so long). It works like this: you take the beans, cover them with cold water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and add the ham hock. I was using a trotter from Flying Pigs' Farms, purveyors of the finest pork I've ever had. It cost about four dollars, and was worth five times that in flavor. Easily.


While that simmers, brown the sausages all over in a skillet, pricking them to release fat. When they're nicely colored, and there's a good bit of grease in the pan, remove them and cut into small chunks (it's cool if they aren't totally cooked, they're going right back in a few minutes anyway). Sautee onions, garlic and red peppers in the sausage grease until soft, then remove, add the sausage back to the pan, cook it through until it's all nice and brown, then return the onion mixture back to the pan with thyme, bay leaves, allspice and tomato (I used canned, which worked great). Stand over the pot, trying not to eat all of this mixture with a spoon.


So now the meat in the beans should be pretty soft, and you can take it out and chop up the meat and return it to the beans if you like. When you do, also add in the sausage and veg mixture. From there, it's "anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on whether you soaked [the beans]." Apparently, though, it's more like 4 hours if you didn't soak the beans. Lesson learned, Bittman!


Enjoy with anything, really. I paired with Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Roast Chicken with Cumin, Honey, and Orange, a salad we forgot to serve, and family friends.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Remember Thanksgiving? It Happened.

It was weeks ago already, and I've been totally missing in action ever since. Probably because I just came out of the resulting food coma. I know, I know, it's halfway to New Year's already, but I'm just now getting around to posting a wrap-up of the big day.


Ari, my cousin, made the turkey. He's been doing this for a few years now, and he's really good at it. Look at that turkey thigh! It's moist as can be. And I got a wing, which is always fun, because, you know, it's like a chicken wing, only HUGE.


I made the stuffing I talked about earlier, doctoring up some Whole Foods' brand stuffing mix with Dipaola turkey sausage (IT'S THE BEST) and a ton of fresh celery and onions. It was really good, just what I was hoping for.

I also made a bunch of roasted root veggies: blue potatoes, purple carrots, shallots, and jerusalem artichokes mixed with a ton of fresh rosemary and minced garlic, pimenton, salt and pepper. What could go wrong? Nothing, that's what.


There was also a lentil salad I brought along. It was really good--lentils cooked in vegetable stock, some chopped up carrots and shallots, lemon zest, sherry vinegar, mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper, mixed just til combined. This one's great to take to a party because it keeps really well, and it tastes even better if you make it a few days beforehand.

I also made an incredibly large--3+ gallons--batch of the Potato Leek Soup, a recipe that I've now made more times than I can count. How can just three ingredients come together to be so rich and satisfying? It's particularly good for tiding people over while various sides go in and out of the oven in preparation of the big feast.


So, that was Thanksgiving! Thanks to Aunt Susan and Uncle Jay for hosting everyone (I believe there were about 300 of us in total) and to everyone who brought or made some form of deliciousness, and especially to Mom for decorating the tables and making everything so pretty (that's her handiwork pictured above). I am truly thankful for such a large, loving family that I genuinely look forward to spending time with. And that's to say nothing of how thankful I am for all of you out there reading this. There's more on my list, but those two will have to do for now. Hope you all had a great holiday, and good luck with all the Christmas, Hannukah, New Years', and whatever else parties you all have coming up!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Soup Weather

"How to Improvise a Soup," p. 125, has five steps that tell you everything you need to know. It could be a whole book in itself, but it only takes one minute to read.

Quickest Chicken Stock
Better Chicken Stock
Vegetable Stock
Smoky Black Bean Soup
Pureed Pumpkin Soup
Potato Leek Soup
Miso Soup

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Staple, Thanksgiving Edition: Vegetable Stock

When I said I'd bring four sides to Thanksgiving this year, it seemed like a good time to make the vegetable stock in How to Cook Everything. There's a bunch of vegetarians in the family, so I couldn't use chicken or pork stock where I usually would--cooking beans, finishing soups, moistening stuffing--so, vegetable stock.

Vegetable Stock

It's pretty simple. What you see above is a whole mess of chopped up veggies--carrots, celery, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, parsley, some garlic--with some soy sauce and peppercorns. Throw them in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce to very low simmer, and let cook for at least thirty minutes, more if possible. Bittman doesn't suggest a maximum time but if you've read Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking, you'll be completely terrified to simmer for anywhere more than an hour (though if you're like me, you probably don't remember the reason he gave). Also taking a queue from Ruhlman, I browned some of the veggies before adding the water for a deeper color and flavor.

Vegetable Stock

Then you just strain, squeezing any excess water and flavor out of the veggies. The broth is delicious: savory with a touch of sweetness. It's very complex. The mushrooms even add a touch of meatiness, without imparting their distinctive--and, for people like my cousin Sara, dealbreaking--mushroomy flavor. You don't taste this and think "mushrooms." I can't wait to see how it works in the dishes I'm planning to make (the lentils, which I cooked beforehand in this stock, were good).

Round Two: Bread Stuffing, Tweaked

Okay, that didn't go so well. It's okay. That's why I made a stuffing ahead of time. Determined to make a phenomenal Thanksgiving stuffing, I dusted myself off and got back on the horse on Saturday, making a second stuffing. This one was for the purpose of getting the texture right--moist, but not mushy (the first one was like a plate of breadcrumbs, with turkey sausage).


Above is the stuffing before it went into the oven. I sauteed onions in equal parts oil and butter until soft, then added some herbs, the bread cubes (from Bread Alone, a hearty mix of whites and whole wheats) and a fair amount of stock and water until I had what I thought was the right consistency.

So this stuffing was markedly better. It was moist, though still not nearly as wet as I like it, and cooking it in my amazing new Staub dutch oven gave it an incredible crust on the bottom. But I still wasn't sure about this stuffing. Even with more moisture, it didn't taste like what I was used to, and to me, that's the most important thing with Thanksgiving stuffing. Below, the stuffing after it came out of the oven (the cast iron gave it an incredible crust).


What exactly am I used to? Pepperidge Farm's bag of stuffing, that's what. Resting somewhere on the legitimacy scale between Stove Top and from-scratch stuffing, it's real bread and a seasoning pack. And after reading this post on Serious Eats rounding up store bought stuffings, I feel reassured that I should stick with what I already know I like. I'm confident that the stuffing will still to be totally next level, because I'm taking the advice of the Serious Eats team and doctoring it up with the things I planned to put in my homemade stuffing (chief among them Dipaola Turkey Sausage from the Greenmarket, aka the best turkey sausage EVER). I'll let you know how it goes after the big day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Can't Miss: Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

So, this is a combination that's very popular, but it's not a case of undue hype. Brussels sprouts really just go great with bacon. I'm not even saying that as part of the standing "everything tastes better with bacon" rule; brussels sprouts are a food that pair with the smoky stuff particularly well. Why ask why?

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

So, you're gonna chop up some bacon. Cook it until it's crisp and the fat is rendered. Meanwhile, as the bacon cooks, trim the bottoms off of your brussels sprouts, and either slice them or quarter them. This was new to me--I'd only ever left them whole or, at most, halved them to roast. Slicing breaks them down a bit, so you have more errant leaves floating around, which I liked. I'm sure it'd work fine if you halved them instead of slicing, but I liked doing it this way.

Okay, so now your bacon is crispy. Throw the sprouts in the pan with a splash of water, about a quarter of a cup, some salt and pepper, and toss them together and cover for about five minutes. Then uncover, let any remaining liquid cook off, and you're done. This dish is a wonder of comfort cooking and simplicity: not counting salt and pepper, you're looking at a whopping two ingredients. Shout out to Daniel Meyer, who tipped me to Flying Pigs Farms' shoulder bacon, which is what I used in this recipe. It's a little more meaty than regular belly bacon, and it worked incredibly well here.

It occurs to me here that I completely forgot to add the balsamic vinegar or lemon juice that the recipe calls for. Whoops! It was still delicious. I'll just have to make it again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do Not Panic, This is Only a Test: Bittman's Favorite Bread Stuffing

I've never made stuffing from scratch before, so when I said I'd do it for Thanksgiving dinner this year, I decided to get some practice in.

"This classic dressing is based on a wonderful recipe by James Beard," Bittman writes in the introduction to what is billed in the book simply as My Favorite Bread Stuffing. Fair enough. I'm not one to start second guessing Bittman, let alone James Beard himself. I went with the sausage variation, using turkey sausage.

Bittman's stuffing recipe is strange, though. First of all, the recipe calls for breadcrumbs instead of cubed bread. That was unexpected, but again, who am I to second guess James Beard? Nobody, that's who. I'd never had breadcrumb-based stuffing. Maybe it would be really good. This is just practice stuffing. Stick with the recipe.

So, you cook the sausage in its own fat (I added a bit of oil, as turkey sausage has a lot less fat to render than pork sausage) then add onion, minced garlic and ginger, and a teaspoon of cumin if you like (I skipped the cumin). Then you stir in the breadcrumbs and some chopped scallions. Then you bake it, either in the bird or in a baking dish. I opted for a baking dish, because that's how my family rolls, and I don't know if I'll be at Thanksgiving in time to get my stuffing in the actual bird. Now, every other stuffing recipe I've ever seen has you add stock or water to the breadcrumbs/cubes at this point. This one makes no mention of that.

I had a bad feeling about this one from the get-go. It was disappointing, but to be fair, it was stuffing with sausage in it--we had no trouble finishing it. Also, it turns out that shrimp and stuffing go well together, so there's that. I didn't get any pictures of the stuffing, but here's one of the shrimp we ate it with.
Simplest and Best Shrimp

What's your favorite stuffing recipe? Let me know in the comments, I think I have time for one more dry run before Thanksgiving hits.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mark Bittman Does Not Want To Stress You Out.

Today in the Times, Bittman brings us another incredible list of 101 short recipes. This time, the focus is on Thanksgiving sides, salads, deserts, and everything in between, with an eye towards not having you scramble around the kitchen like a crazy person on the big day. It's huge, and you should take a look at it right now.

UPDATE: I'm poking around the Times' Thanksgiving page (great resource, btw) and I've come across this oldie-but-goodie from Bittman circa 1997. In which our hero attempts the entire feast in true Minimalist fashion, over just three hours the day of. I bet 1997 Bittman wishes he had 2009 Bittman's list of 101 head starts. And while we're on the subject, check out Serious Eats' Thanksgiving page, which has recipes, pointers, techniques, and even whole menus.

101 Head Starts on the Day [nytimes]
Give Thanks: In Three Hours, From Scratch [nytimes]
Serious Eats: Thanksgiving [serious eats]

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sunday Dinner, Monday Lunch: Seared and Braised Pork with Red Wine

I'm taking lunch with me to work a lot more. It's a no-brainer, since it helps save money and keeps me from tossing leftovers when I forget to eat them and they go bad. So the list "15 Meat Dishes That Are as Good or Better the Next Day," p. 760, caught my attention and led me to the braised pork with red wine dish--that, and the fact that I never really cook pork, but love to eat it.

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This is a lot like making brisket, and as such the end result has a briskety vibe to it. You brown the meat first if you like, (it's boneless pork shoulder), remove it from the pan, pour off most of the fat, add some carrots and garlic and then a lot of fruity red wine and some stock. Return the meat to the pot, let it bubble gently for a couple hours (with the lid on, something Bittman doesn't really mention in the recipe), and you're pretty much done. It's a little time consuming but it's not hard by any stretch. I served it over macaroni, because I had no egg noodles. With Quick Cooked Bok Choy, which I've made a few times before and is now a go-to. Bok Choy is the best.

And Bittman's right about it tasting better the next day. This was very good when I made it for dinner on Sunday, even better when I brought it for lunch on Monday, and downright incredible when I brough the last of it to work for lunch on Wednesday.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bittman in The Feed

Time Out New York's food blog The Feed has a short interview with Bittman today. The headline tries to make him look like a cranky old man, but the actual interview is full of the helpful kind of wisdom we've come to expect: "When I’m in the kitchen I’m not obsessively trying to create the perfect dish; I’m trying to put dinner on the table. Comparing yourself to the people who cook on television is like comparing yourself to Andre Agassi. If you can drive you can cook." As someone that doesn't know how to drive, I'm not sure how to take that last analogy, but as usual I like where Bittman's coming from. More wisdom at the link below.

What Pisses Mark Bittman Off? [the feed/time out ny]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Paupered Chef Will Teach You To Make Stock, If You Will Let Them

I've made chicken stock before, and I do it more and more now. It's not that hard, if you have the time, and it's worth it. I still keep some store bought stock in my pantry just in case I need it. I'm only human.

When I first made stock way back in the beginning of the HTCE project I didn't provide a ton of step by step directions. So I thought I'd pass along this post from The Paupered Chef's Nick Kindelsperger. It's a well written and beautifully photographed account of Kindelsperger's quest to make the best Jewish penicillin he can muster for his ailing wife. It is, dare I say it, better than Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything (there are ways in which the blog is a better forum for the recipe than the printed page, yes?).

Since I first made stock, I've been after the perfect recipe. Bittman's comes out light and simple, and it's not bad by a long shot. But I like a really strong, dark brown thing that I just didn't get from HTCE. I've been looking for tips all over, but what I think has made the most difference came from Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking, an essential text for the home cook looking to gleam some helpful knowledge from the pros. What you do is brown the chicken in the stockpot you're going to use before you add the water. The caramelized bits of meat give the stock a deeper darker color and flavor. You can also use this method to brown any vegetables you are using, to the same effect. Just don't tell Mr. Ruhlman that you keep canned stock just in case. He will NOT let it slide.

Well, Ruhlman's a bit of a snob (it's why we love--him someone's got to uphold these standards, right?) and I wouldn't go that far. But with that said, I can't recommend enough taking a crack at homemade stock. It's not difficult, it just takes time. Use Kindelsperger's recipe, or Arthur Schwartz's. or Bittman's or Ruhlman's or Pepin's or your grandma's or whoever you like. It's cathartic, and your house will smell incredible. And then when you inevitably get your first cold of the fall, there's Jewish penicillin right there in the freezer, waiting for you. And it's way better than canned.

Building a Better Chicken Soup [the paupered chef]
THE Best Time to Make Stock [michael ruhlman's blog]

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's Getting Dark Early: Smoky Black Bean Soup

As I've noted before, it's Fall! I love this season: the weather, and the food (what else is there?). Pumpkins are at the market, soup is back on the menu, and I'm not constantly perspiring. Sure, it'll be cold soon, but have you tasted the apples?! Anyway, I was going to use the black beans from before in another bean salad, but the potato-leek soup turned out so delicious that I decided to make Bittman's Smoky Black Bean Soup instead. Winter's coming, I'd better assemble an arsenal of soups to be used as sustenance, comfort, and homeopathic remedy, right?

Smoky Black Bean Soup

In the recipe, you sauté some onions (I substituted half of the onions for red bell pepper), then add beans, stock, and chipotle pepper (either dried or canned). Basically you just simmer that, then puree some of it if you like (I do). I added the step of browning some bacon and adding it after pureeing. Couldn't hurt, right? Finish it by squeezing in a bit of lime juice just before serving. Bittman suggests some sour cream as well, but I didn't have any, so I used some ricotta salata I had in the fridge--not a bad combination at all, though I must admit that sour cream or even a bit of yogurt would be better.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Salty, Sweet, Tangy: Chicken Braised in Soy Sauce and Lemon, Roasted Vegetables

Here's a new favorite chicken recipe. It's really easy, and it uses barely any ingredients--probably lemons are the hardest thing in the ingredients list to procure, and those aren't very hard to procure at all. Bittman likens it to a "simplified teriyaki," but I think it's just the opposite: what you get here is something much more nuanced and complex than the gloopy sweet stuff that comes when you order teriyaki (of course, I haven't made the teriyaki recipe in How to Cook Everything, so who knows). Apologies to Julia, Alice and Talia who all came over to eat this one night last winter and never saw it posted on the here. It's just that... well... it was way, way, better this time.

Chicken Braised in Soy Sauce and Lemon

Take chicken--either a whole one cut up into 8 parts, or any combination of parts thereof. Heat oil in skillet (you need to have a lid later on, so make sure that's not a problem). Season the chicken, then brown it in the oil, turning so they get nice even color. Remove from the pan.

Pour off most of the oil in the pan. Add garlic, let it soften, then add some lemon zest, cayenne, soy sauce, sugar, and water. Return the chicken to this mixture, letting it get nice and coated in the brothy sauce (or was it a saucy broth?). Turn the heat down so it bubbles gently, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes or so, until the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to a platter of some sort, stir lemon juice into broth, and serve with the chicken.

I also roasted some potatoes and onions to sop up some of the broth. This is a huge and easy weeknight meal, with leftovers that reheat damn well at work!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pumpkin Fest: Fiery Pumpkin Seeds, Roasted Pumpkin, Pureed Vegetable Soup without Cream

It's pumpkin season.


Claire really wanted to come over and make pumpkin seeds. They're a lot of work but they're delicious. We got two huge pumpkins and scooped the seeds out, rinsed them, and roasted them. Pumpkin seeds are one of my favorite snacks, and one of the first things I ever made from my mother's copy of the original How to Cook Everything. The Fiery Pumpkin Seeds was cut from the book in the 10th anniversary edition, but it's pretty simple: cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. I add chipotle chili powder, and you can add whatever spices you like, but the cumin-cayenne mix is really addictive. Roast 'til golden brown, and keep an eye on them, because they go from perfect to burnt really quickly.


Later that night, it was suggested by Eva that I could roast the rest of the pumpkin. I started hacking away the skin with a knife like the green pumpkin I cooked in Philly and sliced it up into oven fry size. I tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them at 450 until they were turning brown. They were pretty tasty, especially with the mayo-mustard-sriracha dip. That stuff is so good I'm not even telling you the recipe.* The roasted pumpkin was delicious. There are no pictures of the finished product, but here's some of the raw pumpkin on the baking sheet.


But these pumpkins were so huge, I couldn't even fit a whole half of one on my largest baking sheet. The next day, the other pumpkin was just sitting on the table, staring at me, so I peeled it (by far the worst part of making winter squash, particularly the pumpkinlike varieties), cut it up into smaller pieces and turned to the Pureed Vegetable Soup without Cream recipe. Seriously, this book has everything. Even the cut Fiery Pumpkin Seeds recipe is replaced with Roasted Nuts with Oil and its Pumpkin Seed variation. The recipe, which is Bittman assures us can be made with any winter squash, is made with carrots in the main version. You cook your veggies in butter or oil with some onions and whatever vegetables you have laying around (I just had onions and the pumpkin) until they soften, then add water or stock and cook until the vegetables are really tender. Then, you can puree however you like: blender, food processor, masher, ricer, food mill, back of a spoon, whatever. I used my brand new hand blender. I love it--it's probably the most fun thing to use in my whole kitchen, and way easier to use and clean than the food processor, which is how I would have done this before. (Thanks, Mom!)


The soup is pretty good. It's not my favorite, but I'm glad that I now have this technique because it's promising--I want any excuse to use the stick blender and it's soup weather.

*OK, fine. The recipe is mayonnaise, mustard, and--wait for it--sriracha.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Float On: Tomato Pesto Sauce

Remember the frozen pesto from before? It met its delicious end this weekend.


20 Quick and Easy Ways to Spin Fast Tomato Sauce, #12. Stir in as much or as little pesto as you like after the sauce finishes cooking.


New favorite.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Philly Weekend: Braised and Glazed Winter Squash

Last week I went back to Philly to hang with Carly, Rob, and their daughter Lily, who's now 9 months old and by far my cutest cousin (sorry, Lev). When I arrived, Carly asked me if I could do anything with a squash that their neighbor had given them. It was one of the craziest looking squashes I've ever seen, like an enormous bright green pumpkin.


Some research on the Serious Eats boards led me to believe (I'm not 100% sure this is correct, so feel free to chime in below in the comments) that the mutant vegetable was a kabocha, also referred to as a Japanese pumpkin. Bittman's advice in How to Cook Everything is that even though winter squashes are all different, they're interchangeable in recipes--they may need a bit more or less cooking time or liquid as they cook, but you can feel free to mix and match. So that's what I did: I took the recipe for braised and glazed winter squash with soy variation, and used this enormous green pumpkin instead of the usual butternut, which Bittman warned me would be better because it's "easier to deal with than the others."

That's probably true. Peeling this thing was a pain in the ass, and I tried roasting its seeds thinking they'd be just like pumpkin seeds. They were not. They tasted weird and cooked really unevenly, so some ended up soggy and others were burnt to a crisp.


For the squash, you cut the vegetable up into cubes, then heat some oil in a pan with garlic. After the garlic starts to cook, you add the squash, some water, and some soy sauce and salt and pepper. Let this simmer, covered, until the squash is tender. Bittman says this takes about 20 minutes, but with the green pumpkin, which I suppose is much more dense than butternut squash, it took over an hour and still wasn't as tender as I would have liked. It was pretty tasty though.


My camera died before dinner was ready, so there's no photo of the finished product this time; instead, I give you this picture of Lily playing with a pumpkin.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Pizza Party: Various and Varied Pies

After work, my pal Melanie and I decided to make pizza for dinner. We got some dough from Whole Foods (more on that later) and picked up a bunch of toppings, to add to things I already had in the house, as well as a healthy amount of wine. Talia and Ryan came by and we had a veritable party of pizza on our hands.


So, we originally planned on making 4 medium sized pies, but the dough from Whole Foods was way too cold to work with, so Talia (she's a professional, y'all!) broke the dough balls up into smaller pieces and put them on top of the oven so they'd proof faster (she also taught me the term "proof"). After a while they were warm enough to roll out, stretch, top and finally bake.

I've made the dough myself before, and I've also bought it from my local pizza place. This was the first time I tried the dough at Whole Foods. It's the same stuff they use for their prepared pizza in the store, and it's very good. But it was more expensive (only by a dollar or so but still), and it was not immediately ready to work with, a huge problem as we were just off work and really starting to get hungry. When you go to a pizza place, their dough is proofed and totally ready to go. And it's cheaper. And it's probably more convenient than Whole Foods. Win-win-win! Glad I tried the Whole Foods dough, but probably not going to do it again.


So, on to the pies. First up, we had Caramelized Onions and Vinegar (which I've made before). For this, you make Bitty's (can I call him Bitty? I saw Mario Batali do it on that terrible show they were on together and I kind of love it, but I'm not Mario Batali, so...) recipe for caramelized onions, and then stir in a tablespoon or so of good balsamic vinegar. This goes on the pizza, and the pizza goes in the oven. Do not underestimate this simple topping--it's addictive.


Next was a more traditional pizza, at least by my provincial New York thinking. I had some tomato sauce with turkey sausage in it leftover from pasta dinner the night before, so we put that on the dough along with some smoked mozzarella. This was good. Very good. The smoked mozzarella was something I was not certain about, but it's now going to be a fixture at every pizza party.

Tomato smoked mozz pizza

Then, a pesto pie. Once again, having pesto in the freezer ready to go is a godsend.


I just defrosted it, spread it on the dough, and then topped it with some sweet yellow grape tomatoes from the market. And some more smoked mozzarella. Again, delicious. What's not to like?


The last pie was olives and rosemary and a bit of olive oil. It was good, but certainly not the favorite of the night. Following that one, we started experimenting, making one with just olive oil, and another with a bit of parmesan and the leftover smoked mozz. Really, the main thing here is that you can't really go too wrong, and you should try anything that suits your fancy. There's about 30 variations in How to Cook Anything, and many more than that if you're feeling creative. Have a pizza party today. If you buy the dough pre-made, it's actually a pretty quick meal, and you don't need all the crap everyone tells you that you MUST have, like a peel and pizza stone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Love the Fall: Potato and Leek Soup

It's fall, and I had a hankering last week for soup. I made a ton of stock, froze most of it, and used the rest, thinning it with some water, to make the Leek and Potato Soup from HTCE. This is such a simple soup, but just three ingredients make a hearty and rich broth. It's easily going to become something I make all the time.


Potatoes (preferably a starchy kind, since you want them to thicken the broth), leeks, olive oil go into a large pot and cooked until they soften. In goes stock or water (or a combination) to cover. You bring that to a boil and let it simmer until the potatoes are breaking up and getting really soft. At this point, you're pretty much done. I pureed the soup at this point, but it's not necessary, I just prefer it that way.


Oh, and I added sausage. That move, while perfectly alright, didn't really add much to the soup, and I'd probably leave it out next time.


Served it with some homemade croutons (i.e. a piece of toast I cut up), salad with ricotta salata on the side. Delicious.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Staple: Cooked Beans

Part of the idea of the Ben Cooks Everything project is to see what's worth making from scratch. Some things, I've found, are totally worth it, save you money and store in the freezer for reheating at the perfect time (chicken stock, pesto, tomato sauce). Some of them aren't worth it at all, I've always thought.


Take beans. Canned beans are fine! Bittman himself has said so, and every bean recipe in the book can work either with cooked-from-scratch beans or canned beans.

They're certainly cheaper than canned beans--a pound of uncooked black beans cost me $1.86 and yielded 4 cups of cooked beans. And if you store them with some of the cooking liquid, they freeze and keep just as well as canned, but presumably, they taste better. I don't know, I've never cooked my own.

To cook them, Bittman provides three methods: Quick-Soak (boil, turn off heat, let soak 2 hrs, return to heat, simmer til done), No-Soak (boil then simmer, til done), and Long-Soak (soak in cold water for 6-12 hrs, drain, simmer til done). Regardless of the method you use, the type of bean makes the cooking time vary greatly. I opted for Quick-Soak, Bittman's favorite: place beans in water to cover, bring water to a boil, turn the heat off, let sit covered for 2 hours. This is the soak part of the recipe (I suppose the idea of "quick" is relative). Then you add a bit of salt, pepper, and let the beans simmer, tasting every 15 minutes until they are done. I also added a bit of stock to the cooking liquid as the water evaporated, after one of Bittman's suggestions. It took over 2 hours for the beans to finish cooking, but most of them went into the freezer with cooking liquid to cover so that they'll be ready to go when I need them down the line.

So, what does everyone think I should do with the beans now that they're done?

P.S. Bittman's list of 5 beans to always keep on hand (p. 413): white beans, black beans, pinto/kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils.

Friday, September 25, 2009

If You Think We're Turning On The Oven You're Crazy: Bean Salad, Tomato Mozzarella and Basil Salad, Chicken Salad with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs, and Fennel and Plum Salad

So, this dinner was held at my parents' last month, during the hottest days of August, when we really didn't want to turn on the oven. So, salad party! With an essential assist from Sullivan Street Bakery's pizza bianca.

First up was the Bean Salad. At first glance, it's not the most exciting recipe in the world. Sitting there on p. 215, it's just onion, salt, pepper, cooked or canned beans, olive oil, vinegar (or lemon juice) and some parsley. There's a list following, "7 Simple Last-Minute Additions to Bean Salads" that has some good ideas. But it's not until you make your way to p. 216 that the variability really hits you: here we have a full-page chart of variations (eight in all) of Bean Salad. You think you can go either way on bean salads, but what about a Spicy Black Bean Salad? Chickpea Salad w/ Chutney? Meditteranean Stlye White Bean Salad? Yeah, I thought so.

Salad - Bean Salad.jpg

The latter is what Mom decided on: white beans with tomato, cucumber, a bit of shallot, and lemon juice for the acid. This salad was delicious and I imagine the leftovers tasted even better after the additional soak time.

Next up was Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad, also known as the Caprese salad. This is one of those recipes that is so simple it's almost sitting there on the page, mocking you. "You really need me, asshole?" it seems to taunt, complaining to its recipe friends what an idiot you are.

Salad - Caprese.jpg

Cut up some tomatoes (using good ones is important). Cut up a ball of mozzarella. Tear up some basil leaves. Layer it all on one plate. Salt, pepper, drizzle with olive oil (I like a splash of balsamic, too, though Bittman omits this). Done. A combination that's as common as PB&J, and with good reason.

Next up was Bittman's Chicken Salad with Olive Oil and Fresh Herbs, a lighter alternative to the usual mayo-heavy chicken salad. This recipe is free of any mayo--it's just shredded chicken, shallot, olives, lemon juice and zest, and a whole lot of any type of herbs you like (fresh, not dried, if possible). You can also add a bunch of torn greens, though we declined to do so.

Salad - Chicken.jpg

This recipe, like the Bean Salad, is really just a matter of throwing everything into a bowl and mixing it up. It's delicious, and it's nice to not have all that mayo--makes the salad a lot more chickeny.

Finally, we made a salad not from How to Cook Everything, but rather from Bittman's list of 101 simple salads for the summer. This one (#48!) was simply sliced fennel and plums (hello food processor!) tossed with a cider-ginger vinaigrette. Simple, interesting, refreshing, this may have been the star of the table.

Salad - Fennel Plum.jpg

It may have been, if we hadn't served it all with the Sullivan Street Bakery's pizza bianca, which very well may be the most delicious bread in the world. This meal was one of the best of the project so far. Salads: who knew?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shellfish Unleashed: Steamed Clams and Traditional Focaccia

I've done the steamed clams thing before, and it's becoming something that gets easier and tastes better every time.


In Bittman's recipe, you just sautee some shallots in olive oil, add the clams and some beer, white wine, or water. The clams do all the work from there, releasing their juices into the delicious broth until all of them are open. Then you're done. This time, I used wine instead of beer, and I added leeks and celery to the shallots. Although I think I like the dish better steamed in beer, I will say that I was drinking the broth from the serving bowl by the end of dinner. My guests were horrified and amused, respectively.

Another recipe that's become a new favorite is pizza dough. I've made pizza twice already, and I decided I'd try out the rosemary focaccia recipe, which is basically the same as the pizza dough, but you let it rise in a pan and drizzle it with olive oil, salt, and rosemary (some olives would work, too). Then you just bake it until it's golden brown. It's really good.


And Bittman says it freezes well--wrap the finished focaccia in plastic wrap, then a layer of tin foil, and then just reheat in the oven wrapped in another sheet of tin foil (after you remove the plastic wrap, of course).

Also, for no other reason than they were super cheap at Fairway, we enjoyed a pre-dinner snack of fresh green figs topped with a soft goat cheese.


Not something I necessarily got from Bittman, but I'm sure he'd approve.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Talking Some Sense: Michael Pollan in the Times

This blog is first and foremost about cooking, and I would never try to make it a soapbox. But sometimes, politics and food intersect in ways that are hard to overlook. What we eat is often a more political issue than we care or wish to consider.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma (which everyone should pick up and read, stat), has an op-ed in today's New York Times about the link between healthcare and big agriculture, and how the healthcare reforms currently being debated can, if they make it through congress intact, have a huge effect on the industrial food industry.
The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.

When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

Yet another reason we need healthcare reform so badly.

Big Food vs. Big Insurance [nytimes op-ed]

Sweet and Summery: Corn Salsa

This one's a variation on Bittman's Fresh Tomatillo Salsa recipe, where you replace the tomatillos with 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, roasted quickly with a bit of olive oil (two recipes with one stone!).


I used four ears of corn for this, roasted them briefly in the oven and then cut the kernels off the cob. To that, you add some fresh green chiles, chopped scallions, and minced garlic (I just threw all of this in the food processor and let it do the hard work for me), plus some chopped cilantro leaves and lime juice. I added some chipotle and ancho chili powder for good measure. This stuff is delicious, and it's one of those dishes that gets tastier the longer it sits in your fridge--this definitely peaked on day three. Next time, I'm making this for taco night.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Didn't Photograph Well: Peanut Sauce

This looked like a yellowish goopy mess, so I'm sparing you the pictures. It's pretty easy--chiles, garlic, shallots, turmeric, and secret weapon lemongrass get pureed in the food processor. Then that puree gets sauteed in a bit of hot oil and mixed with peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and a good amount of coconut milk. That's pretty much it.

I served this on Chinese egg noodles, which was pretty good, but I think it'd be better on meat. Slathered on a broiled or grilled chicken would be pretty good, I bet.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tweaks Needed: Warm Spicy Greens with Bacon and Eggs

Billed by Bittman as "the salad for meat-eaters," this was not one of my favorite dishes so far. Part of that could have been the greens I selected (mustard) or the fact that they were kind of on the wet side when I put the salad together (I don't have a salad spinner). It was a good start, I guess, something I'd like to try again in the future.


So, to make this recipe, you fry up a few strips of bacon, cut into small pieces (I'm sure pancetta and the like work well here, too). Then you add some onions or shallots, and let those soften, then deglaze the pan with a bit of red wine vinegar and mustard. This sauce makes the dressing for the salad. Place the greens in a warm bowl, toss with the bacon dressing, and then top each portion with a poached egg.

I thought this salad would make a great main course, and that's how I served it. Unfortunately, a series of circumstances made it a really just-okay salad. First of all, I'd never eaten raw mustard greens before; their name is no joke. It was like eating greens laced with wasabi. Some bites were mild enough, while others brought on hot tears. I could barely taste the bacon! Eating it, I thought that perhaps quickly blanching the greens might make them a bit milder, one possible tweak to make this recipe a bit more bearable.

Sidebar: Jacques Pepin makes a similar salad, with frisee instead of greens and the bacon on top instead of incorporated into the dressing. Looks really good. You can watch the episode of Pepin's show where he makes the salad here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Others Cooking Everything: Four is a Trend (Piece)

Making every recipe in How to Cook Everything isn't the most original idea in the world. Obviously I started my project in a post-Julie & Julia world,* and I'm hardly the first person to see the power contained within How to Cook Everything and its recipes. It's impossible not to think to yourself, after a while of reading through Bittman's encouraging prose, "What if I cooked everything?" It's no surprise, then, that I am not the only blogger out there attempting this goal.

There's the Clumsy Gourmet, who recently widened her approach beyond How to Cook Everything, but still worships at the altar of Bittman.

There's Waiting for Bittman, a group-authored blog with "hopes of attracting the attention of their cooking muse." Don't they know how easy it is to e-mail the man?

There's Cooking My Way Through How to Cook Everything, which is short on pictures but full of helpful pointers--much like myself, Brandy wants you to learn from her mistakes.

Shout out as well to the Big Girls, Small Kitchen blog as well. They're not limiting themselves to Bittman's recipes, though they use them occasionally, and I feel like I could totally vibe with Phoebe and Cara, the Quarter-Life cooks.

So who's going to bite and write a story about this new wave of Bittman devotees? I'm embarassingly easy to reach for comment. Just saying.

*For the record, I think the movie was quite enjoyable, a unique rom com for the ages, while I thought Julie Powell's original book was a piece of self-indulgent trash.

Monday, August 17, 2009

While the Basil's Cheap: Traditional Pesto

It's that time of year when it seems like everything is in season. Basil, it seems, gets lost in the shuffle. But don't let it! For three bucks you can buy more than enough basil for a batch of pesto. And it couldn't be easier, as long as you have a food processor.


Basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, and oilve oil go into the food processor. Turn it on, pour in a bit more oil as it whirrs, and you're good to go. If you're going to eat it right away, add grated parmesan or romano. Otherwise, leave it out until right before you serve the pesto. I was freezing this batch, so I left it out.


That's it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Philly Weekend: Grilled Pizza

Carly and Rob are using a patch of their backyard to grow some organic vegetables. There are herbs, squash, beets, carrots, and even a couple of baby watermelons (adorable). I used some of their homegrown rosemary and cherry tomatoes on some grilled pizza, and then topped another small pie with dried figs, prosciutto and sauteed onions.


Like I learned last time Pizza dough is really easy to make, and grilling it is also surprisingly easy. I just rolled it out, brushed olive oil on one side, put it on the grill oil side down, and let it firm up a bit.


Then I brushed the other side with more oil, flipped it, added toppings, and let it finish cooking. Cooking time was only about five minutes--I opted for toppings that were all precooked. The tomato pie was simple and tasty--the dough was chewy and tender, less crunchy than it would have been in the oven but just as delicious. And the the fig-prosciutto-onion pie, not a Bittman idea but all Carly's, had that amazing sweet-salty thing going on.


Basically, everyone should try making their own pizza, and if you are lucky enough to have access to a grill, then you should also grill your own pizza. Someday soon, I'm going to try this on the stovetop.