Monday, February 23, 2009

It's How Lincoln Would Have Wanted It: Tomato and Cheese Frittata, Roasted Bacon, Carmelized French Toast, and Strawberry Sauce

When I was a kid, my favorite holiday was always Presidents' Day. We'd try to get some sleep, the anticipation too much to overcome. Finally, at the crack of dawn, we'd run downstairs to open our presents under the Lincoln Tree, meticulously decorated with ornaments of each of the presidents (save for the William Henry Harrison ornament, which broke like a month after we got the set, drag). After we opened our presents, we'd let Dad put them together while Mom made frittatas, bacon, and french toast. Sorry, I mean freedom toast. Then we'd watch the parade.

It was with these fond memories in mind that I invited over some friends for what I hope will be a continuation of the tradition. I decided to stick with the same dishes mom used to make. First up, the frittata, which Bittman claims is as good hot, warm, or room temp. Mom always made it by finishing it in the oven, but Bittman just does it all on the stove. It's pretty damn easy; saute onions (I used scallions) in olive oil, add tomatoes, throw the eggs on top of that, and sprinkle Parmesan over the top.

Let that go over low heat til the eggs are just set, and you're good to go. This was pretty tasty, but not altogether stunning. I served it pretty much room temperature, and I think I would have preferred it to be warmer. The other thing I can't put on the recipe or Bittman or even my friendly neighborhood produce guy: fresh tomatoes really suck this time of year. Tomato season just isn't long enough. These tomatoes just made the omelet a little wetter, a little plainer, whereas if we had some nice in season ones, it would probably make the dish something truly special. As it stood, it was more like the omelets at the dining hall freshman year, before you learn to never, ever ask for the tomatoes.

Next up was the bacon. Bittman says that roasting the stuff is a good way to go for large batches. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but actually it was the best bacon I've ever made. I hate pan frying the stuff, it's messy and it takes forever and I'm just not down with that. From now on, I shall roast. There were a few benefits. For starters, all the bacon is done at once. Much less time consuming. It also takes a lot less effort, and on top of all that, I've never been able to get that kind of crunch by frying it. Big success.

Anna the bacoterian was here, and she also seemed pretty psyched on the stuff. Oh, and I think the bacon itself was very good quality, I got it at Fairway, and it tasted a cut above for sure.

Caramelized French Toast was the real highlight of this Presidents Day feast. Great thing to make at brunch because no one orders it when they go out for brunch. It's likely to be a crowd pleaser. I used challah, the ultimate bread for French toast, dredged it in the milk-egg-vanilla mixture, and cooked it on a grill pan. In this Caramelized variation you sprinkle a bit of sugar over the piece (you can also dredge it in sugar but that sounded too sweet) before you put it in the pan. Gives it a nice brown color, and doesn't hurt in the flavor department. Easier than you think. Served it with maple syrup, robviously, and the Strawberry Sauce that I made from the Fruit Sauce, Two Ways recipe (cooked fruit method). Basically you just boil some butter and sugar in water, let it thicken, then add the fruit. The recipe says to puree it, but I decided to leave the strawberries in slices. It's in the dessert section, but it goes pretty well with French toast.

So I've cracked the brunch section of How to Cook Everything, and I'm feeling good about what's to come.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wings, Again: Chicken Wings with Ginger Soy Glaze and Ginger-Scallion Sauce and Quickest Fried Rice

After all the talk of Ginger-Scallion sauce and Scallion-Ginger sauce from the last post, I thought that this weekend would be a good time to try the Ginger-Scallion sauce. One recipe that Bittman suggests with this sauce is the ginger and soy sauce glazed chicken wing variation. I made the Smokey Lime Chile variation before, and have also made the traditional Buffalo-style Chicken Wings with Bleu Cheese sauce (haven't posted that yet though, it's on the way). I know, it sounds like I'm trying to make this blog into Ben Cooks EveryWing, but I swear I'm making wings just as much as I used to before the project. They're the most underrated part of the chicken. Americans are so in love with the bland, flavorless chicken breast that it sells for exorbitant amounts, while the flavor packed wing goes for next to nothing. And yet, the wing has so much more texture, flavor, and versatility. It's fun to eat and you get those tips that you can save to make stock with later on down the line. I only love them more now that I have Bittman's six variations to work with.

These wings are the same as the aforementioned Smokey variation: roast the hell out of them in the oven (another benefit of the wing, it doesn't seem to ever dry out), toss them in the sauce. In this iteration the sauce is rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, a lot of ginger, plus a little Sriracha for a kick which was my addition, and I recommend. Roast another ten minutes or so, and you're done. And boy, are these good. I liked them even more than the Smoky ones, which I loved. Now, Bittman says that this recipe doesn't need a dipping sauce, but that the Ginger Scallion sauce will work if you feel you must. Obviously I did, and while I agree with Bittman that they'd be really good on their own, the dipping sauce does add another level of delicious.

Ginger-Scallion sauce, I must say, is very similar but to my taste not as good as Scallion-Ginger sauce, but that's probably because my mother used to make Scallion-Ginger sauce all the time; nostalgia colors taste, I know this much. But you can't really lose with either one; they're both easy and tasty. The Ginger Scallion sauce is faster, as the heat from the oil makes the flavors come together more quickly, where the Scallion Ginger sauce has to hang out and marinate itself for a while. And, uh, I forgot to take pictures of it. My bad. It's a shame because the stuff was a very pleasing vibrant yellowish-green. Would have been a nice compliment to all this brown food I've been making.

Meanwhile, the rice couldn't be easier: saute some onions, and peppers if you've got them, in neutral oil. Add cooked rice (best if its a day or so old, but OK to make some, chill it a couple hours, and then use that) and let it cook til it starts to brown a bit. Then you throw in some soy sauce and sesame oil, and you're good. It was a little bland, but had a nice subtle flavor to it.

Next time I think I will try the more detailed fried rice, which looks like it has a lot more flavor. All in all though, for the time it took, this was a nice easy way to punch up some rice, and not as greasy as I thought it was going to be.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Minimalist Wednesday: We Have a Lefty!

Mark Bittman: rule breaker. In today's minimalist, he expands upon the savory oatmeal dish that he took to NPR and the blogs a couple weeks ago. Also featured is breakfast pizza, made on a crust of polenta. Hell yes. Bittman also took the idea to the Today Show, to show an overly sassy Meredith Vieira how the polenta pizza idea works and profess his leftiness. It looks dank. Check out the Today Show clip below, and don't skip the Times article which has even more recipes for what look like tasty and easy savory breakfasts. There's also a video with a different savory breakfast recipe on the Times website.

NOTE: If you're reading this, NYTimes web people, PLEASE make your videos embeddable. Then I could post those instead of the Today clips, and that would make me extremely happy. Alternatively, if the hosts of the Today Show would stop talking to their audience like a bunch of confused toddlers, maybe I wouldn't have such a problem with sharing their videos. So, there's two possible solutions.

Your Morning Pizza [nytimes]
Savory Breakfast [ntimes video]
Savor a slice of Mark Bittman's polenta pizza [todayshow]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sort of a Throwback: White Cut Chicken with Scallion-Ginger Sauce

Back when I was in middle school (I think) my mother went to see Mark Bittman do a cooking demo at Macy's Cellar, where he made Steamed Chicken with Scallion-Ginger sauce. I'm going out on a limb here, but I think that this was the recipe that turned into White Cut Chicken, and the Ginger-Scallion sauce that Bittman suggests serving it with. See how he flipped it?

Mom got a ton of mileage out of the Scallion-Ginger sauce recipe. Basically, she used to just steam some chicken breasts (bone-in) and serve them warm or room temp with the real star of the recipe, the dipping sauce. It's just a mixture of scallions, ginger, a bit of garlic, neutral oil, soy sauce, and a little bit of sesame oil. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a light, clean, complex flavor that actually compliments the blandness of chicken breasts, which are usually not my favorite. There's no cooking, but the longer you can leave it hanging out before it's time to eat, the better. Ginger-Scallion sauce, on the other hand, doesn't have soy sauce or sesame oil in it, and you heat the oil before adding it. How is it? I don't know, I haven't made it yet. But Scallion-Ginger sauce, what you see here, is one of the tastiest dips ever, and it goes really well with White Cut Chicken.

Well, on Saturday I decided to use the cut-up chicken I'd bought to make... something. I flipped open the book to find a recipe I had the ingredients for (sidebar: I need to get out of chickenland, but I don't think I know how). White Cut Chicken jumped out. It's basically poached chicken, but it leaves you with a really nice broth, because you poach the chicken water flavored with ginger, scallions, salt, and sugar. You boil that, add the chicken, reduce it to a simmer, and then turn off the heat altogether and let it chill for a while.

Then you let it come to room temperature and serve, either with Ginger-Scallion sauce, or Scallion-Ginger sauce, or whatever you like, really.

One question: what should I do with the broth? Any ideas? I don't think it's as versatile as regular chicken broth, but it is packed with scalliony, gingery, sweet and salty flavor. Maybe I'll use it to make some rice. Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gaff Factory: Shrimp Jambalaya and Broiled Pineapple

We weren't five minutes into cooking, and Mom was already worried about how she'd be portrayed on the internet. "Are you going to write on your blog that this was my fault?" See, the Jambalaya recipe calls for uncooked shrimp, but my mom grabbed the bag of cooked shrimp in the freezer aisle instead. It's a common mistake, and I blame not my mother but the companies that make the packaging so hard to distinguish. These packages need to say "RAW" or "COOKED" in bigger letters than they say shrimp. Making one label blue and the other red does not clear anything up. Get it together, seafood distributors of America. Luckily there were so many more goofs to be made during this meal, precooked shrimp was the least of our troubles. Surely it was not enough to derail our meal.

Family dinner! "I've been thinking of making the jambalaya from the book," Mom said when she called me at work. So here was my first chance to take the project on the road, to a whole new (and extremely well lit) kitchen. I came over after work and we got down to business. It's always fun to cook at my parents' place, because they have a dishwasher, the aforementioned lighting, a really nice stereo in the kitchen, basically they've just got it all figured out. And the company's not half bad either. The snacks provided while cooking (pictured below) are also far superior to those in our usual digs.

In a perfect world, the recipe works something like this: heat up some oil in a large skillet or pot, throw in diced onions and red peppers and let those brown. Then you add the rice, thyme, cayenne (Mom didn't have any so we used chili powder, which did the trick) and garlic. Then you add some canned tomatoes, and let that go for another few minutes. Then, you add the stock, and lower the heat a bit. This was where gaff number two came up, which I will take responsibility for (though I really blame a certain high quality supermarket in Red Hook, BK).

Not satisfied with the kosher salt I'd usually use to season such a mixture, I dug out a disposable plastic sea salt grinder from said Red Hook market. Somehow, my fervent grinding twisted the whole top off of the container, and about 1/3 cup of very coarse salt tumbled right into the pan. Kind of not good. I fished out as much as I could, and we decided to dilute with more water and more rice, a cup and a cup and a half at a time (respectively). I think we ended up adding 4-5 more cups of water than the recipe called for. It still tasted a little salty, but not as bad as it had before. So, you let the rice and stock bubble away for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, uncovered (surprising, right?) until there's just a small amount of stock left. At that point, you add the shrimp. We didn't, because our shrimp was already cooked. What we did was let the rice absorb the rest of the stock, and then stir in the shrimp after we'd taken it off the heat. This way we figured they wouldn't get all rubbery, just warmed through. Then we chopped up the parsley, which (gaff #3) we then forgot to actually add to the dish. Which is fine, because as he reminded us during dinner, Jonathan HATES parsley. He was pretty offended we'd thought of putting it in at all.

Anyway, all in all, it was pretty delicious. Yeah, it might have been richer without all the extra rice and water, and it could have been shrimpier if the little guys had actually cooked in the pot instead of just warming up in it. But it was pretty delicious overall, Reva and Steve kept the wine flowing, and, you know, there's something about a meal with your family that you can't get anywhere else. Next week, Mom wants to make pizza, so we'll see how that goes. I can say this: I will be sticking with regular salt (seriously, they don't have any of that sea salt left anyway).

Oh, and for dessert, we broiled some pineapple. Ever had grilled pineapple? Same idea: just stick it in the broiler until it gets nice and charred. It's a fruit that's just totally unleashed when you get a nice char on it. Brush it wish some vegetable oil before you cook it. I never thought to do it under the broiler but I certainly will be doing it again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Crackers: It Works!

I didn't take any pictures or anything, because it's really not a part of the project, but over the weekend I made the recipe for Parmesan Cream Crackers from Bittman's last Minimalist column (check the video), and the bloggers were right about them: delicious, easy, super impressive. Lots of "you MADE these?!" comments. And it really only takes 20 minutes, baking time included.

Update: turns out these Parmesan Crackers are in HTCE, as I discovered last night. I can't believe I thought crackers wouldn't be in the book; they are anything, after all. I'll probably do it again because it was so easy, so I'll try to get some photos next time (some people have pointed out that the crackers I made this weekend don't count for the project, but these people were mostly my brother/roommate Jonathan who really just wants me to make them again so he can eat them). I think the best part of this realization is that I've now been thrust into baking without having to think about it. I'm afraid of baking, and I was planning to put it off for as long as possible. But this shit was easy!

Also, as far as I can tell, this means that Bittman comes up with ideas for the Minimalist column by picking up a copy of How to Cook Everything, choosing a recipe, punching up the intro, and sending it to his editor. How badass is that?

Flaky, Buttery, and Easy to Make [Bittman's Bitten blog]
Recipe: Parmesan Cream Crackers [nytimes]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tastes Like Chicken: Arroz con Pollo

No one knows for certain the origin of the term "Arroz con Pollo" or even what language it comes from, but many etymologists believe it means "Hot Ham Water." Today, it is used to refer to a chicken and rice dish which, again, no one knows the true origin of.

We do know this: It's easy, and it tastes great. I'm sick of writing that already, but it seems to happen a lot in How to Cook Everything. Anyway, this one's easy: sautee some onions in olive oil, add rice and coat with the oil, throw in some heated up stock and a pinch of saffron (tastes good; turns it that nice yellow), bring to a boil, turn down the heat, cover, and let cook for something like 30 minutes. It's done when the rice is done, and it takes as little effort as it sounds.

This is a winner right here. You may remember me mentioning my mom's recipe for rice, and that's similar in that you take onions, sautee in some butter, add the rice and sort of toast it a bit like you do here, then add stock and simmer it (covered! no peaking! my mother shouts from inside my head) til it's done. I dare say that this is a better way of doing the same thing, as the chicken gives up even more flavor than just stock. It's certainly more convenient in that way, though there's no accounting for nostalgia, which usually just trumps everything else. So while I'm not throwing away Reva's rice recipe just yet, this is certainly a similar method that yields similar, more chickeny results. Pictures to come.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

So Rich: Pasta Carbonara

Remember the rule about starting with bacon always ends in delicious? Well this further supports the argument.

You're supposed to begin with pancetta, actually, but I had slab bacon left over from the Beef Daube recipe and so I used that. Also, Anna was eating with me, and she doesn't eat red meat aside from hot dogs and bacon (I'm no vegetarian, but if I were, I might have to make the same allowance; I back it fully). I assumed this meant that she ate pancetta as well, what with it basically being bacon without the extra step of smoking (I think), but apparently not. "What about bacon and hot dogs don't you understand?" I'd like to point out that while we were by the butcher counter of Whole Foods having this discussion, Anna downed a free sample of skirt steak. Just saying.

Anyway, back to the carbonara. This dish is something I've loved since I visited Italy in 2007 where I had it for the first time. Pictured below, this was an eggy, oniony, herb filled, bacon flaunting pasta dish that I could not believe actually existed. Bacon. Eggs. Pasta? Yes. Please. Eating it while watching the sun set over the Italian Riviera did not hurt things, but I digress.

I've made my own carbonara before, using this recipe from the Paupered Chef. It's a delicious one, and it's not very hard. Great because it uses only four ingredients and pays off in the flavor department. A little bit goes a long way, too, as it's one of the richest pasta dishes I've ever had. Seriously, this is a dish that adding cream to would probably lighten things.

Bittman's recipe is much much more simple, and I have to say, I thought it tasted better. You can make it in the time it takes for the pasta to cook--not for the water to boil, mind you, but the actual ten minutes or so it takes for the linguini to finish. Take a warmed bowl. Beat three eggs. Throw in half a cup of pecorino romano (preferably) or parmesan, some salt, pepper, mix that up. Throw in the browned pancetta (or bacon) and its juices, throw the pasta on top, and mix together. You can add a little cooking water to thin it out if you need to. Otherwise, that's it. Serve. The hot pasta cooks the egg just enough to thicken it a bit, and the egg and bacon juices just coat the pasta and it becomes something much greater than the sum of its parts. No, it wasn't the same as the batch that I had in Italy, but it was pretty damn good nonetheless. And it's not so bad for you, as long as you only make it once a decade or so.

I will say this, though: only make what you're going to eat on the spot. The recipe is easily halfed, quartered, what have you, but it reheats into a dried out shell of its former self. Of course there is still bacon, so yes, I will eat microwaved carbonara. But it's not the same.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Welcome Everyone!

So, today I'm throwing the doors open on this fledgling food blog/personal journey/shrine to Mark Bittman. Welcome!

I hope you'll enjoy following me on this crazy project of mine; hopefully I can learn a lot and pass along some of the knowledge, saving you all some legwork. If you don't already have a copy of How to Cook Everything, check out the right sidebar and follow the link to get one for yourself. Trust me, you need it. You'll see. Already have it? Grab a copy of Bittman's latest, Food Matters, a Pollan-esque manifesto. With recipes!

If you have any questions, requests, comments, or other thoughts to share, please leave it in the comments or, if you like, shoot me an email: Now let's get started...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Not As Weird As You'd Think: Baked (Shirred) Eggs

Well, it was Sunday, my usual brunch date wasn't available, but I wanted some eggs. Seemed like as good a time as any to delve into the breakfast chapter. I was going to make The Best Scrambled Eggs recipe, but my roommate and brother (same person) started complaining that he didn't like scrambled eggs. Which I had never heard of before (from anyone, let alone my own brother), but whatever, I'm flexible.

So, Bittman says that baked eggs are special, that there's something about the texture that's not quite like any other kind of egg. They're "endlessly adaptable," too, which is always great. Basically, you butter a ramekin or some such small oven safe dish. Crack an egg into it. Salt, pepper, throw in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

Bittman says it's twelve if your oven is right on the money (which I think mine is not--I need an oven thermometer). Anyway, when it comes out, it's kind of like a fried egg on top and a soft boiled egg on the bottom, with a poached egg-like consistency in the middle. Timing is definitely the hardest part here, but I could see this being really really handy if you were cooking for a lot of people; they'd all be done at the same time and to the same doneness. I guess I'll have to start having brunch parties?

Food Matters on NPR

Bittman! National Public Radio! I could only be more psyched on this if there were Muppets involved: the man himself was on NPR plugging his new manifesto of a cookbook, Food Matters. Listen here. Agricultural revolution, minimalist style.

He discussed his eat more vegetables, eat less meat approach, its effect on your body and the environment, and then started talking crazy about savory oatmeal with soy sauce. Serious Eats tried it out. Now I want to.

An Excuse to Use Slab Bacon: Beef Daube

Fact: Any recipe that starts by browning slab bacon is going to end well. It's science.

As far as I can tell, I've made seven meals, not sure how many recipes (I should really get a spreadsheet going), but still not a single dish with red meat. I had a feeling this might happen; I am a chicken man and have been for as long as I can remember. Well, after a sale at the store left me with 2 lbs. of boneless chuck roast, I decided it was time. Weather was cold, to say the least, and so I decided a stew of some sort was the way to go. Enter HTCE's Beef Daube, what Bittman says is a Provencal style stew.

So, you start by browning the chopped-up slab bacon (are there two more beautiful words in the English language?) until the fat is rendered and its pretty crispy. Then you remove it, trying not to munch it all up while it sits on the countertop. Brown the beef (cut into chunks) in the bacon fat. Then you remove the beef, set that aside as well, and throw in diced onions, carrots, celery, smashed garlic, rosemary, thyme, and orange peel. I didn't have celery because Fairway in Red Hook did me dirty, and I didn't have thyme, but this wasn't the end of the world; I just upped the carrot/onion and rosemary proportions a bit and carried on. So you sautee those veggies and aromatics (it's gonna smell really REALLY good) 'til they soften and then add a bit of red wine vinegar and a cup or so of red wine, bring it to a boil, put the beef back in, lower the heat and cover it.

Let that go for an hour or so, then throw the bacon back in. At this point, if its drying out, add a little chicken stock or just water. Give it another 15 or so or turn off the heat (it reheats really well) and finish it before serving.

Beef Daube turns out to be exactly what I was looking for. Served over some egg noodles, it was filling, soothing, warming, a delectable Sunday dinner. Time consuming, yes, but super easy. The hardest part was chopping up the veggies. I think my favorite part was that the flavors didn't exactly melt together; they went well, of course, but there was the distinct flavor of orange peel, rosemary, onion, bacon, each waiting to be picked out by the observant eater.

Chicken: who needs it?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Staple: Fast Tomato Sauce

This was the first template recipe of Bittman's that I mastered. I call it a template because, like the Five Minute Drizzle Sauce, once you master the technique, you can mix it up in an infinite number of ways. It's a special recipe to me, because even though it's one of the most ordinary meals known to man, if you can master making your own tomato sauce, your kitchen self confidence will see a tenfold boost. At least. Even more than when you make your own stock.

Originally, I made this out of the HTCE spinoff book, How to Cook Everything: Quick Cooking, which is a fantastic sort of training wheels version of the book. Anyway, basically you sautee some onions and garlic in olive oil, throw in some canned tomatoes, let it cook for a while, throw in a bit more olive oil toward the end to thicken it up, and you have a nice simple tomato sauce. It's not gonna change the world, but it takes no longer than reheating a store bought jar and it tastes a lot better.

From there, it's your call. I like mine with some carrot cooked along with the onions and garlic. This makes it a bit sweeter, and if you grate the carrot in the shreds just sort of melt away into the sauce. I also usually add tomato paste after I add the can tomatoes; it makes it a bit thicker and saucier. You like olives? Throw some in. Anything goes, really. In addition to all the improvisation you can come up with, there's a list following the recipe with something like 20 quick spins on the template. They pretty much all look good.

This week I thought I'd play with it beyond my usual two "variations" of grated carrot and tomato paste. I started with adding lemon zest in the sautee phase (though maybe I shoulda done this when I added the tomatoes. Anyway, I added the zest and skipped the tomato paste. Not on purpose. I just forgot. I also put it through the food processor so it was a little smoother and less chunky.

Then towards the end I added some pitted olives and half a jar of capers. The additions made the sauce a lot tangier than usual. It was pretty good; next time I won't omit the tomato paste (I like it thick!) and my olives, which were the mild green kind, were not optimal. Next time, Kalamata or something nice and salty like that.

Maybe the best part is the quantity; there's always some left over and it keeps pretty well in the freezer. So the next time I want tomato sauce, I'll just defrost, add some tomato paste (it's never too late!) and be good to go.