Sunday, November 29, 2009

On the Menu This Week

What I'm craving, after a week of multi-course meals, is some simple fare. To be sure, we're still plowing thru leftovers. The beets and goat cheese that I bought but didn't use on Thanksgiving will go into the Warm Goat Cheese and Roasted Beets on Mixed Greens, and I'll serve that with leftover Turkey Soup. I made the day after Thanksgiving, having allowed the broth to simmer all night. I sweated a leek, some celery and carrot and then added about two quarts of delicious broth. I added a bit of turkey too, but tend to like to throw that in during the last minutes of reheating since it retains it's flavor and texture better that way.

My biggest hankering, tho, is for fish. Salmon Sandwich with Dill Aioli, and a side order of steamed Artichokes will be on our plates tomorrow, with any luck at the market. We've been eating fish twice a week pretty regularly for about a year now. And we didn't have it ONCE last week. Since I finally made it to the one store in my hood that sells my favorite malt vinegar (Heinz; harder to come by than you'd think) we'll also have Fish and Chips this week.

Also featured this week are Cantonese Pork Tenderloin and Baby Broccoli; Lamb Kabobs and Quinoa; Salad with Lemony Pesto Dressing and Grilled Chicken; and another lemony Chicken Fricasse. To make the last one, I just pound chicken breasts, dredge in salted flour and cook about two minutes per side in a skillet with a smidge of olive oil. Once browned, add a half cup or so of white wine and a bit of chopped parsley, and maybe another splash of olive oil. Season to taste and serve with something green.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Menu this Week

It's a short menu this week - three regular dinners with extended family in town and then the Hootenanny that is Thanksgiving. Last night we had Italian Beef on Sourdough and Spicy Green Beans; tomorrow will be Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and Chanterelle Pizza; Wednesday, with even more family coming in, will feature Flank Steak Fajitas with Spanish Rice, Salsa Verde (pictured left) and Guacamole.

And then, of course, there's Thanksgiving. I'm reconsidering the starters. Last year I did a seared scallop on a smidgen of butternut squash puree with a sage leave garnish. It was lovely but I want something new. Was considering a little Tenderloin Crosini topped with Gorgonzola cream...or a pumpkin soup served in sake cups, but I don't know. Maybe I'll do the antipasti. Will probably decide on Wednesday morning at the chilly farmer's market.

2009 Thanksgiving Menu

To Start
Antipasti Platter of Roast Vegetables, Salumi, Olives and Crostini...maybe
Seasonal Mixed Greens with Gorgonzola, Candied Pecans and Pear

The Dinner
Salted Roast Turkey with Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Spicy Sweet Potato Fries
Green Beans with Shallots and Pancetta

The Dessert
Pumpkin Pie
Cinnamon Ice Cream and Apple Pie

Here's some background on method...I'm a turkey-rinser (and, yes, I scour afterwards). Turkey prep begins Wednesday. After rinsing I rub it down with kosher salt and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap overnite. I hate doing it, but I did it once a few years ago and the turkey is so good every year that I have to continue. I'm honestly dreading the process already. It's so, so gross. The salt is rinsed off on Thursday prior to roasting.

The vegetarian stuffing really is amazing, and that's coming from a someone who loves a traditional sausage stuffing. Buy a nice loaf of bread to use - I get a cranberry pecan one from Whole Foods, which I had them slice for me this year. You could, of course, use a nice sourdough, but I like the deeper flavors in the denser bread.

The Golden Pillow Rolls are positively divine. They are like warm clouds. And you can make the dough on Wednesday and do the rest on Thursday, which is nice.

For the green beans, I just saute the shallots and pancetta in a big skillet for a few minutes, then add the beans and season with salt and pepper. The potatoes I often leave up to someone else since I can't bear to use the requisite butter. I just look the other way. The sweet potato fries, which i think i'll do again this year, were the frozen ones from WF - but so good, especially when doctored up with some spices.

As for dessert...Jan's recipe request got me thinking about cinnamon ice cream alongside apple pie. And Gingerbread, which is so good I can't even stand it. Pumpkin Pie just gets made and eaten as obligation. For that recipe, I just follow whatever it says on the Libby's can, but substitute half and half for the condensed milk or whatever nonsense they call for.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Method: Perfect Pie Crust. Easier Than You'd Think

I've heard so much advice for perfecting pie crust. Freeze before baking. Visualize it coming out perfectly. Spend a year in culinary school. All three might help, but the best trick ever comes from the cooking side of the kitchen at Campagne in Seattle where I used to work.

On the pastry side of the kitchen we blind baked tarts all the time. We didn't usually use pie weights. Our in-house baker (a culinary student) sheeted sucree dough for the pastry team, and we kept them in the fridge, and they held up pretty well in the oven during blind baking (oops - did I lose you? Blind baking is cooking an empty pie crust.) At all other kitchens, my own included, I used pie weights - usually rice or old dry beans. I would line a tart shell, stick it in the freezer to firm up and then cover with a sheet of parchment paper and fill with the weights, pressing into the corners. I'd bake it for 20 minutes or so, then carefully remove the parchment, prick all over with a fork and bake another 10 minutes, or until it didn't look raw anywhere and was a little golden.

But today, after reading a post on Smitten Kitchen, I revisited the method from the other side of the Campagne kitchen. I removed my sucree-lined tart shell from the freezer, sprayed the shiny side of a piece of foil with baking spray and pressed it onto the crust. I baked it for about 20-25 minutes and voila! It. Came. Out. Perfectly. I'm so impressed. Looking forward to trying it out on other doughs, but don't anticipate problems. The Campagne cook used this technique exclusively on the crusts for quiche - deep dished, pie crusts. And they were always gorgeous. I am positively shocked that I've never tried this myself.

Here's the recipe for Pate Sucree, which I use for most tarts, and here's the recipe for pie dough. Happy Thanksgiving Prep!

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A Guide to Neopolitan Pizza in Chicago

Coalfire. Nella's. Spacca Napoli.

That's the order in which you should try Neopolitan pizza in Chicago.

I've been waiting for months for Nella's to open. It's walking distance from where we live and I was anxious to see if they would impress. Nella's finally opened on Friday and we were there the following night.

Nella herself was the pizza maker at Spacca Napoli and the pizzas at her new establishment on Clark, just north of Fullerton, have very similar crust but a much deeper flavor. My only complaint about Spacca Napoli's pizzas were that they tasted like a pizza that lacked any taste of a pizza. Too bland. But their gelato! Salads! Antipasti! It's a decent place to dine, but they need some improvements to the main dish.

So Nella did that at her place, but she also added a bar and some big TVs so it's a bit noisier. Still, it's a nice family spot. She does have a giant cooking-school style mirror above the open pizzaiolo station, so if your seat is oriented toward the back you can watch a pizza being built. My children were also encouraged to go back and have a look at the cooks themselves, which is always nice. Earning other kid friendly points, the young children at the table next to us had bunny ears on their pizzas.

Anyway, at Nella's we had a few pizza Margheritas and a Diavolo (spicy pepperoni). I started with an arugula/Parmesan salad that arrived perfectly dressed with lemon, salt and olive oil. We'll try the gelato on another visit.

Still, Coalfire makes the best pizza, hands down. And when going out for pizza what I want is REALLY GOOD PIZZA. Maybe someday they'll serve lovely salads, salumi and gelati but for now, we'll continue to make it our family pizza joint.

1321 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60642-6447
(312) 226-2625

Nella's Pizza Napolitana (soon to be renamed Francesca's Pizzeria Napoletana)
2423 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60614

Spacca Napoli
1769 W Sunnyside Ave
Chicago, IL 60640-5312
(773) 878-2420

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Simple Menu before Thanksgiving

I'm keeping it simple this week. For one, I just returned home from a gloriously long weekend in San Fransisco eating so well that I can barely eat my own food again. Duck Confit! Salmon Cozy! Acme Bread! I love trips like that - they rally me back to the kitchen with determination to improve my skills, menus and foraging. But I'm not quite organized enough yet so my menu this week is safe. Last night, armed with just a pack of basil and some chicken breasts, we had an old favorite, Chicken Pesto Pasta.

Tonight we enjoyed a meal make possible by the humble Yukon Gold potato: a Spanish Tortilla/Omelet and a new soup, Ham & Potato. I made the soup by sauteeing a chopped stalk of celery, a leek and 4-5 chopped Yukon gold potatoes. Then I poured in a 32 ounce box of that chicken broth I like so much (Imagine Organic) and simmered it for about 12 minutes. When the potatoes were tender, I turned off the heat and pureed the soup in my food mill (didn't feel like waiting to cool it for the blender). I strained it, too, into a clean pot and simmered it for another 10-15 minutes until it thickened a bit more. Then I sliced some of that lean Applewood smoked ham from TJ's and threw that it, along with a scant half-cup of milk and some salt and fresh ground pepper. After another 5-8 minutes of simmering it was ready, and it was superb.

Whole Foods has been giving away avocados lately ($1 each) so Carnitas with Guacamole and Spanish Rice will hit the table tomorrow night. This week we'll also see Salmon on Arugula or Mixed Greens, Roast Leg of Lamb with Taziki Sauce and Greek Salad and a Flank Steak Sandwich alongside some roasted veg from the winter farmer's market.

I'm also writing my Thanksgiving Menu and shopping lists for next week, and planning other meals to serve when everyone's in town. I'm thinking ahead about lamb burgers, chicken fajitas, and maybe spaghetti and meatballs. And yes, I've started practically every morning with eggnog in my espresso. Yum.

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On Why I Love My New Phone

I broke up with my iPhone on November 6 and immediately hopped back in the saddle with a comparable device. Oh, Droid! I love you, I do. I am most pleased by the functioning service. I didn’t think SERVICE was asking so much of a phone. AT&T did not concur that prorating my bill to reflect all the times my phone said NO SERVICE was necessary to keeping me happy. So I took my huge monthly bill and signed it over to Verizon.

Here’s what I love about the Droid:
Get up and Google - I’ve been using Google’s many features - Gmail, calendar, pages, docs, BLOGGER! so the Android platform made perfect sense for me. Within minutes of being powered up my Droid had downloaded my contacts, complete with photos pinched from Facebook and Gmail.

Processor Speed - I don’t know what’s running this thing but, boy, is it ever fast.

Speed of the 3G. I'm a careful (read: suspicious) consumer. I assumed "world's fastest 3G network" was a crock or at least overrated. I was wrong. I didn’t even think it possible to run Pandora on a 3G -assumed I needed WIFI. Now a little bird tells me that the 4G, the next generation, will be even faster than WIFI. Way!

Useful apps. Like the Weather Channel which allows me to upload several locations and gives me a little screenshot of each one on the home page. I like knowing where the sun is shining and who it’s shining on. That way I know who to call and complain about the weather in Chicago.

Talking navigator. Need I say more? TNav got me from Los Gatos back into SF without incident (and I ALWAYS get lost in SF). And it didn’t make me feel badly when I missed an exit off 101. It just calmly told me to how to correct my error. Here an App-on-App would be kind of funny -like setting the voice to a certain accent, or adding on different emotional attitudes (such as passive aggressive where the phone just stops giving you directions but mutters in a barely audible volume). Let’s face it, most of us aren’t used to a calm, competent navigator.

Here’s what I miss:
Visual voicemail. Even if you upgrade for paid visual VM there’s an unacceptable delay between when the caller leaves a message and when you are alerted of it. AT&T/iPhone's Visual VM merits uberprops for novel technology.

The iPod. Just a little. On account of being generally sick of my iTunes collection and wooed by Pandora.

SplashShopper. When I first got the iPhone I spent a few months toting my old Treo just so I could continue using SS (which now exists for iPhone). Well, I’m double fisting again. Only SS doesn’t even work so well with my first generation iPhone. I’m waiting impatiently for the good folks at SplashData to scribble code for Android.

That’s it.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quick and Hearty Mexican Beef You Won't Want to Share

I always feel just a little bad when I won’t share with my dog. He got up from his nap only because I was reheating leftover Poblano Beef. He even followed me upstairs (he rarely does the stairs anymore) so I would take pity on him and toss him a bite. It just doesn't seem right to try poblanos on him at this point in the game.

The recipe below is (slightly) adapted from Rick Bayless' great cookbook, Mexican Everyday. It's quick, easy, healthy (if you use a nice lean beef) and incredibly flavorful. And amazingly enough, even though I wasn't planning on making it this week, I had the critical ingredients on hand: three poblano peppers and two lean sirloin steaks from Trader Joe's. The steaks were supposed to be used for Coriander Dry-Rubbed Steaks with Avocado Salsa later in the week, but the timing of my ripening avocados wasn’t going to be right.

Anyway, you simply must try the Poblano Beef sometime - if only for the possibility of leftovers for lunch. As good as it was for dinner, it was even better for lunch the next day.

Poblano Beef
Print recipe only here

Serves 4

3 fresh poblano peppers
1 T canola oil
1# lean sirloin steak, cubed
1 medium onion, sliced
3-4 medium potatoes, cubed
4 cloves garlic, pressed
½ cup water, beer, beef broth or white wine
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped

First, roast the poblanos. I did this on my stovetop - just put them right on the burner over the flame and turn them with tongs. You could also broil them. You want them nice and charred - it’ll take at least 5 minutes. When they’re done, place them in a bowl, cover them with a plate or towel and reserve until cooled.

Get all your veggies prepped, the onions, garlic and potatoes. And cube the beef. Don’t forget to dry it with paper towels.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Sprinkle the beef with salt and add to the skillet, browning it all over. Transfer the beef to a plate once browned.

Add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 6-8 minutes. Then add the garlic. Sauté together for another minute, then add the water/stock/beer and Worcestershire.

Reduce heat to low and cook about 7-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, rub the blackened skin off the poblanos and peel off the inside membrane and remove the seeds and tops of the peppers. Rinse to remove the remaining bits of seeds and skin, and then cut into strips, about ¼-inch wide. Add the poblano strips to the skillet and continue to cook for a few more minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Return the beef to the skillet and heat thru. Sprinkle with cilantro and add more salt if necessary. Serve and enjoy.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Best Seasonal Addition to Coffee

Updated from the Pinch Archives

Many a coffee purist would shudder the thought of adding eggnog to coffee, but not this one.

I've loved the eggnog latte for years, since my days frequenting Monorail Espresso in the nation's espresso capital. No Portland, not you.

The eggnog latte is probably loaded with as many calories as one of those Dunkin' Donuts muffins I've heard tale of (700-plus, if memory serves). I don't want those calories to end up on my tail, so I steer clear of Starbucks this time of year.

But this, this most wonderful lowfat eggnog from the good folks at Horizon, fills the void. The easiest way to enjoy it is to pour an inch or so into your mug and zap it up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then fill your mug the rest of the way with coffee. Yum. Oh, and don't add sugar - the eggnog is pretty sweet. [2009 update: This year, thanks to Miss Sylvia, I'll be cocktailing my eggnog with an equal amount of nonfat milk (about 2 ounces each) and steaming the the elixir for a delicious double short eggnog latte. And it will be nice and good.]

Eggnog lovers, rejoyce! It's eggnog season!

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Two New Vegetarian Curries for an Indian Feast

Yesterday I spent the extra hour of daylight cooking up a fine Indian feast. I do a regular Indian meal with tandoori chicken, naan and cauliflower curry. But last night's feast was also a birthday party so it had to be bigger and more special. I added two other curries to the menu, both inspired from the cookbook Lea made me get - Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible - Masoor Dal (Curried Lentils) and Chickpea Curry, a north Indian style curry. I loved both and now consider them integral to the Indian feast.

Masoor Dal
Print recipe only here

Serves 4 as a side dish

3 ounces red lentils (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 t salt
1-2 t canola oil
pinch of chili flakes
2 t sweet curry powder

In a small or medium saucepan, heat the oil. When hot, add the chili flakes. When the pepper darkens, add the curry powder and the onion. Saute for 1-2 minutes. Add water, lentils and salt to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more curry or salt as necessary.

Chickpea Curry
Print recipe only here

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

one 12-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
2 smallish potatoes, chopped into 2-cm dice
one medium onion, chopped
6 ounces tomatoes (I used a scant cup of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes)
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3-4 hot green chilis (birds eye or serano/or one jalapeno - just use in moderation if you don't want too much heat), finely chopped
1 ounce cilantro
1 T ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
5 whole cardamom pods
½ t turmeric
1 T canola oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves

Drain chickpeas in a collander.

Add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chilies, cilantro, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ½ t salt and ¼ cup water to a blender and blend until smooth.

Add the oil to a medium, lidded saucepan and heat over a medium-high flame. When the oil is hot, add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and cardamom pods. Then add the onions and potatoes. Saute for about 5 minutes.

Add sauce from blender and stir. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 5-6 minutes, stirring a few times during cooking time. Add about ½ cup of water to the blender to wash down remaining sauce and reserve.

Add to the pot the drained chickpeas, water from the blender and a pinch of salt. Stir and bring to a simmer, increasing flame as needed. When it simmers, cover and reduce heat, cooking gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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