Thursday, December 26, 2013

Cauliflower Soup with Scallops

Last year around this time I had an absolutely delectable soup at a Talula's Table dinner, and have had savory memories of it from time to time since. When designing my Christmas eve dinner my mind wandered back to it, and I decided to finally take a stab at recapturing that cauliflowery deliciousness. I was inspired by this recipe on Epicurious and after adapting it to suit my tastes (and budget!), am extremely pleased with the end result. This is one voluptuous soup. 

Cauliflower Soup with Scallops
Makes 4-6 servings

*1 scant tablespoon butter
*1 small shallot, minced
*1 garlic clove, minced
*1 medium head cauliflower
*Equal parts chicken stock and water, about 3ish cups of each
*1/4 cup cream
*1 thumbnail size piece of Parmesan rind (or just a piece cut from a wedge)
*S&P (white pepper, if you don't want to blemish the ivory surface of the soup!)
*3-4 bay scallops or 1 sea scallop per serving

Carve the core out of the cauliflower and break the head into small florets. In a pot melt butter over medium heat and drizzle with a dribble of evoo. Sweat the shallot for a few minutes, add the garlic and continue to saute for a few minutes more. Add the cauliflower, then just barely cover with water & chicken stock (around 3-3 1/2 cups of each). Throw in the piece of Parmesan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes with the pot partially covered. When the cauliflower is totally tender, puree everything with an immersion blender and add the cream. Season with salt & white pepper to taste. Pass the soup through a fine mesh sieve to achieve that smooth silky consistency.

Meanwhile, prep the scallops – trim the muscle if necessary and dry the scallops thoroughly. Season with S&P. Heat a skillet over high heat, add a small slick of evoo and sear scallops briefly on both sides, about a minute total for bay scallops and a minute and a half per side for sea scallops. Serve soup in shallow bowls and garnish with the scallops.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Eggs in Purgatory

Sometimes weekend cooking involves elaborate, time-consuming productions, but sometimes it involves ransacking the fridge in a bleary haze for leftovers to repurpose. However, subsisting on leftovers is fine by me when the leftovers in question include a largesse of Sunday Gravy. Eggs in Purgatory, a dish of jiggly eggs poached in a smimmering tomato sauce, is a ridiculously simple and satisfying brunch, lunch or dinner that'll serve the dual purpose of hearty nourishment, as well as a use for any leftover red stuff, either from the aforementioned Sunday Gravy, or even a half-empty jar of store-bought marinara. Served up over toast points, it can't be beat for a quick mid-Saturday meal, or for that matter, a meal for any other time during the week when you can't bring yourself to expend any more effort than cracking eggs.

Eggs in Purgatory
Makes 2 servings

*3-4 cups tasty, rich tomato sauce
*4 organic eggs
*Freshly grated Parm-Reg
*Toast points

Add the sauce to a modestly sized saucepan. Bring to a burble over medium and make little depressions in the sauce for each egg you're using, then crack the eggs one by one in a small cup and slip into each of the depressions. Spoon some sauce around to cover the majority of the eggs. Cover, leaving the lid cracked just a touch, and cook for about 7 minutes until the whites are set but the yolk is still a little runny. Scoop the eggs out and serve with extra sauce over toast points, dusting liberally with freshly grated Parm. Alternately, you can bake the eggs in sauce at 350 for about 16-18 minutes, results of which pictured above. Between you and me, I prefer the eggs simmered but the tasty end result doesn't make for the most pleasant of pictures!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Steak Au (Sichuan) Poivre

Everyone has their favorite steak prep method, and mine happens to be au poivre. That addictive peppery crust just cannot be beat. I tend to overload my peppercorn mix with Sichuan peppercorns, which add a fun tingle and exotic flicker to the classic dish. I also tend to deglaze the pan with whatever stout I'm swigging, which is not a particularly Sichuanese tradition (or even a French one) so if you'd prefer to stick with the usual bourbon, cognac or brandy etc, that's fine. This latest occasion I happened to be drinking Bell's Cherry Stout, which made for an exceptionally tasty deglazer!

Sichuan Steak Au Poivre
Makes 2 servings

*1 well-marbled strip steak cut about an inch thick, around 10 oz
*2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns + 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
*Kosher salt
*1 teaspoon chili oil or EVOO
*2 tablespoons butter at room temperature, divided
*1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
*3 tablespoons stout beer (or bourbon)
*1/2 cup beef stock - I boil down a cup of beef stock until it is reduced by half
*1 scant teaspoon light soy sauce

About 30 minutes before you are ready to cook the steak, take it out of the fridge to temper the meat. Trim the steak if necessary and cut into two pieces. Coarsely crack the peppercorns. Sprinkle each side of the steaks with salt, then press each side into the cracked peppercorns, encrusting the steaks lightly or heavily as you prefer.

Heat the butter in a cast iron skillet over high heat and drizzle with the oil. When the surface is hot, lay the peppered steaks in. Sear for about 2 minutes per side; press with your finger to test for the springiness that indicates rare and then cook to your desired doneness and transfer to a warm platter, tenting loosely with foil.

Lower heat to the other side of the dial, take the skillet off the heat and add the shallots to the pan. Saute briefly, scraping at the drippings with a wooden spoon, and put the skillet back over the burner. Add the stout to deglaze, then add the stock and soy sauce. Adjusting the heat, bring the liquid back to a boil and cook to thicken the sauce, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Finally, add the last tablespoon of butter, swirling it around in the pan until it melts and incorporates, then spoon the sauce over the steaks.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Pepitas and Sage Butter

It's a scenario I face frequently - my pal Michael G, culinary genius, will post a picture of some scrumptious-looking foodstuff he created and I am compelled to make it myself as soon as humanly possible. Recently he posted an perfectly executed autumnal scene of pumpkin gnocchi tossed with roasted seasonal vegetables that set me slavering away at first glance, and after securing the recipe from him I set to work. My first attempt was...fine. Having never made gnocchi from scratch I was thrown by certain aspects of the process, like how sticky the dough would be for one, but I managed to make something edible. Subsequent attempts saw the pumpkiny pillows perfected. I love the idea of tossing the gnocchi with roasted veg, a la Michael G, but I ultimately prefer a more simple prep with browned, nutty butter, crisped sage and toasted pepitas. Serve as you like, but if you go the pepitas route, you'll want to make extra because they are an addictive crunchy treat. Goes without saying that you'll wanna make extra gnocchi too - I've had very good experiences with freezing them, so double away!

Dapper Owl plate from Rachel Kozlowski for West Elm

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Pepitas, Browned Butter & Sage
Makes 3 servings

 Adapted from the aforementioned Michael G!

*1 cup pure pumpkin puree
*2 tablespoons finely grated Parm-Reg, plus extra for serving
*1 cup flour
*1 egg yolk
*Pinch of sea salt
*Pinch of pepper
*Small pinch of nutmeg
*4 tablespoons butter
*1 smashed clove garlic
*8 leaves of fresh sage, some slivered 
*2-3 tablespoons roasted pepitas

Set your pumpkin puree in a fine mesh sieve to drain for about 30 minutes to an hour. To roast the pepitas, toss with olive oil and S&P and roast at 325 until browned. I tossed them again when done with a pinch of allspice.

Put a large pot of water on to boil (or two, which will cut down on time). In a wide saucepan, start to melt the butter over medium-low, throwing the garlic clove in as it cooks. Combine the flour and the grated cheese along with pinches of seasonings in a small food processor and blitz until everything is very fine. Combine the pumpkin and the yolk in a bowl, then add the flour in parts, working everything together with just your floured fingertips. Do not overwork! You don't need every last speck of flour worked into the dough, which, as I alluded to above, will be quite sticky. Flour your work surface and your hands and divide the dough into 3-4 pieces. Roll each blob into a long rope of about a finger's thickness, and cut the rope into 1/2 inch pieces with a floured blade or pastry scraper and place on floured wax paper. You can get fancy and roll them down the tine of a fork or a gnocchi board to get nice-looking ridges, or you can leave them shaped as is. Cook them in batches in the rapidly boiling water until all the gnocchi float, about a minute or two. You don't want to overcrowd the pot, which is why I advocate for the two-pots-of-water decision.

Meanwhile, raise the heat for the butter and as it deepens in color, throw in the sage leaves. Take out the garlic clove, season the butter with S&P, and as the gnocchi rise to the top of the boiling water, remove with a skimmer and toss into the sage butter sauce to sear lightly before serving. Dust each portion with freshly grated Parm-Reg and speckle with the pepitas.

*To freeze, simply drop the cut gnocchi onto a cookie sheet that has been covered with floured parchment paper, pop in the freezer, and bag when frozen through. Do not thaw when ready to prepare, just simply toss into the roiling water*

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sopa de Ajo

So, all you have in the kitchen is a half-empty bottle of oil, a can of chicken stock, a knob of brown bread, a flaking head of garlic, and some eggs hiding in far-flung corners of the carton? Maybe some smidgens of spices left in the cupboard? Don't exhale a dusty sigh of destitution, you have all the makings of a delicious dinner right in front of you! Sopa de ajo, or garlic soup, was created by penurious Spanish peasants who had to make do with only meager scraps of sustenance, such as water, oil, garlic, eggs, and yesterday's bread (traditional recipes don't even include chicken stock!). Although, for origins in such a humble array of ingredients, you'd fancy yourself a king eating a bowl of sopa de ajo (or, at least a baron). It's an intensely nourishing and warming soup, and when you break the poached egg and let the yolk swirl with the garlicky broth, the whole experience gets transcendentally rich and silky. It becomes something you crave even if the pantry's stocked full of caviar and truffles and such.

My personal recommendation for maximum enjoyment is to put on Les Blank's documentary short Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers as the soup is simmering, and as your desire for the stinking rose reaches fever pitch, dive into your finished soup!

Sopa de Ajo
Makes 2 large servings

Personal recipe with guidance from Rick Bayless' recipe 

*Scant 1/2 cup olive oil
*1 head garlic, cloves peeled and roughly chopped (at LEAST 20 cloves)
*2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
*2 cups water
*2-3 slices of crusty brown bread, with or without crusts removed
*2 eggs
*1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
*Chopped cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 325. Heat the oil in a small heavy pot over medium-low. Add garlic, reduce heat and stir frequently for 20 minutes. Manage the heat so that the garlic simmers but doesn't brown. Once soft, drain the garlic and transfer to a larger pot, reserving the oil. In the larger pot, add the broth, water and paprika and simmer on medium-low. Season to taste. Meanwhile, cut the bread into cubes and toast in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring a few times. Drizzle with some of the garlic oil, toss to coat, and return to the oven to cook for 5 more minutes. While the croutons are finishing up, poach the eggs. To serve, dish out the soup, add a poached egg to each bowl, and garnish with the croutons and some chopped cilantro.

*Especially good when you want to stave off a cold, or are in the throes of one - garlic is superhealthy*

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mixed Greens with Black Grapes, Hazelnuts & Manchego

Local, seasonal grapes were on sale at the store the other day, and I could not help but buy a bursting bagful of some very alluring black specimens. Besides nibbling them straight from the woody stems hedonist-style, which is my preferred method of dispatching grapes, I decided to showcase some of the juicy glaucous orbs by nestling them in a bed of green. A simple balsamic and oil emulsion, some shaved Manchego, and a smattering of toasted hazelnuts completed the scene to make a very tasty and exceedingly simple meal, pleasing to both the eye and mouth. A great late-August-grape-harvest salad!

Mixed Greens with Black Grapes, Hazelnuts & Manchego
Makes 1 serving

*1 teaspoon very good quality balsamic vinegar
*1 tablespoon of your finest EVOO
*Pinches of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste 
*3 handfuls mixed greens ( I used a spring lettuce mix and some watercress)
*Decent-size sprig's worth of black grapes, some halved
*Shaved Manchego cheese
*1 tablespoon crushed hazelnuts, lightly toasted

Emulsify the oil and vinegar with salt and pepper to taste, drizzle over the greens and toss. Arrange the grapes, cheese shavings and nuts as it suits you.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Egg, Squash Blossom & Cheese Breakfast Quesadillas

We have a magical squash plant in our front yard. I didn't plant it, my husband didn't plant it, nor did our neighbors - it just appeared one day and immediately started taking over. I can only imagine that some autumnal decoration was tossed aside into the bushes and forgotten, once upon a time. I'm watching it eagerly to see if we'll actually get any squash out of it, but in the meantime I've been enjoying its blossoms! It's more for novelty's sake that I've been working with them, but they do have a delicate squashy flavor that is quite pleasant. Plus, it's just plain fun to eat flowers. This quesadilla might not showcase the blossom front and center, but they work perfectly well with the other ingredients, and it makes for a very tasty and filling breakfast (brunch, really!)

Egg, Squash Blossom & Cheese Breakfast Quesadillas

Makes 1 quesadilla

*1 teaspoon butter
*1/2 of a small onion, thinly sliced and roughly chopped
*1 clove garlic, minced
*Petals from 4-5 squash blossoms
*2 eggs
*1 large flour tortilla
*3/4-1 cup shredded melting cheese (I used bagged Mex blend; it was a lazy morning)
*2 basil leaves, chiffonaded

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and drizzle the pat with a little oil. Add the onions and saute until translucent, and then add the garlic. Sprinkle with salt and saute another few minutes before adding in the blossoms, sauteing until they wilt. Spoon the mixture into a bowl along with the basil and set aside. Pour the eggs into the pan, scrambling until fluffy, with S&P to taste. Add the eggs to the blossom mixture when done. Meanwhile, lightly brush a tortilla with a little butter or oil and set it, greased side down, in a skillet that will accommodate it (preferably cast iron). Sprinkle a heaping half-cup of shredded cheese around the tortilla and as it melts, spoon the egg and blossom mix over one half of the tortilla. Add a little more cheese to the top of the filling, and then fold the tortilla over. Press down with a spatula and cover. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side, then cut and enjoy! I had mine with avocado and salsa verde, and it was delicious.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Quick Peanut Butter-Banana Ice Cream

I've posted uses for overripe bananas a few times already, but this is now far and away my favorite method of using up those speckled stragglers squirreled away in my freezer. I've used frozen bananas to add oomph to smoothies for ages, but I'd never tried to blitz them on their own until the other day when I wanted to make some cool and delicious treat, only to find I was out of dairy (save a couple cans of condensed milk). After some experimentation with the sweetened condensed milk and some peanut butter (and lots of scraping down the sides of my blender), I achieved my goal, and how! I'm shocked at just how well this mimicked ice cream with a solid custard base, in both mouthfeel and scoopability. I credit that to the higher levels of sugar in the overripe bananas as well as the addition of sweetened condensed milk. Whatever the sorcery, it made for a scrumptious, easy (and mildly healthier!) dessert.

Quick Peanut Butter-Banana Ice Cream
Makes about cup and a half, or 3 servings

*2 frozen bananas, peeled and sliced
*2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used chunky-style for some textural fun, but feel free to use smooth)
*1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

Blitz it all together in your most powerful blender or food processor. My blender isn't the greatest, so there's a fair deal of scraping I have to do to get it all to blend properly, but if you have something top shelf like Vitamix, this should be a snap. Once it's getting...for lack of a better word, goopy, scrape it out into a container, press a round of Saran-wrap on top to prevent ice crystals from forming, lid it and pop into the freezer to harden again until you're ready to serve.

Note: Some googling turned up plenty of other delicious additives - must try Nutella next time!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Roasted Garlic & Cannellini Bean Dip with Basil Oil

With all the office gatherings, potlucks, picnics, porch parties and BBQs that come along with summer, I thought I'd share my cheapest, quickest and easiest, yet still terrifically tasty, recipe for a perfect please-'em-all offering to bring along to any of the above. It's great in a pinch when I remember I have to make something a little too late to devote hours to my favorite potluck dish, baked lentils (the recipe for which, eventually, I'll post to the blog!). This dip is delicious, dirt-cheap to make, will appease nearly any dietary restrictions, and is easily doubled (or tripled, etc). You can even nix the pretty basil oil topping if you're really pressed for time.

A note about the garlic: I am gonzo for garlic, so I put 4-5 cloves into my dip if it's just for me and my garlic lovin' spouse/friends/family. However, if this dip is making its way towards an office function, or set in front of a group of people I don't know that well, I usually tone it down to 2 or 3 so there's just a hint of garlic, not an all-out assault (the way I like it). Find your happy medium!

Roasted Garlic & Cannellini Bean Dip with Basil Oil

Makes about 2 cups - approx. enough for 10-12 people in a potluck setting
*1 15oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
*2-5 cloves garlic
*Juice + 1 teaspoon zest from one lemon
*Scant 1/4 cup evoo
*A pinch of dried oregano

Basil Oil
*Equal amounts of basil & evoo (I usually go with 1/4 packed cup to 1/4 cup)

Rub the unpeeled garlic with a little oil, wrap in foil and toss in a 400 degree oven to roast for about 30-40 minutes - I suggest popping in a few extra cloves while you're at it, because the temptation to slather some roasted garlic all over toasty bread when it's done will be too great to resist. While the garlic is roasting, puree the basil and olive oil in a small food processor, and then pop into a mason jar and set in the fridge. No need to rinse the processor, just toss all the dip ingredients in it when the garlic is done. Pulse everything until pureed, and season with S&P to taste. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve, and then drizzle some of the basil oil over top. Any leftover oil can be re-purposed in myriad ways.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blackened Shrimp Salad with Buttermilk Vinaigrette

The other day I stopped at my beloved local dairy farm, Baily's, to pick up a little pint of buttermilk for weekend pancake dreams. No pints to be found, but the avuncular Mr. Baily sent me packing with a quart for the same price. So, saddled with a largess of buttermilk (a problem anyone should like to face!) I noodled around on chowhound for ideas, and came across the notion of a buttermilk dressing. Instantly I imagined it luxuriously poured over a spinach salad, and the rest came together from there. The buttermilk made for a very tasty, pleasantly sour and tart vinaigrette, which mingled well with the smoky and piquant flavors of blackened seafood. I'm kind of in love with this salad.

Blackened Shrimp Salad
Makes 2 entree size salads or 4 side salads

*8 oz fresh spinach
*A couple slices of stale crusty bread
*1 ear corn, shucked, washed and kernels cut off cob
*A handful of thinly sliced red onion crescents
*10-12 shrimp, shelled and deveined
*2-3 tablespoons blackening spices (you may find my mix recipe here)
*High smoke point oil
*Leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme

Buttermilk Vinaigrette
Loosely adapted from Frank Stitts' Southern Table
Makes about 1/2 cup

*1 tablespoon cider vinegar
*1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
*1 teaspoon minced shallot
*1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
*1/2 teaspoon minced thyme leaves
*1/4 cup buttermilk
*1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
*1 tablespoon evoo

Wash and dry the spinach, and prep the croutons. Remove the crusts and then cut the bread into modestly sized cubes. Toss with some sea salt, pepper and olive oil and bake at 300 for about 10-15 mins, flipping once. Meanwhile, toss the shrimp with the blackening spices and set aside while you prepare the vinaigrette.

Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, minced shallot, zest, thyme and pinches of S&P and slowly whisk in the buttermilk and sour cream. When combined, slowly emulsify the evoo within and season to taste. Set aside and heat a cast iron skillet over medium high. When it starts to smoke add a glug of canola oil, swirl around, and then set the shrimp in. Blacken about a minute and a half per side or until cooked through. Beware - there will be smoke! Make sure your exhaust fan is on high or you've got some windows open in the joint.

Throw the spinach, red onions, corn, shrimp, and croutons together, fleck with thyme leaves and then drizzle the dish with the vinaigrette. Freshly cracked pepper and some grains of sea salt to complete.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Orecchiette with Sausage & Sundried Tomato Pistou

If pressed hard to name my favorite pasta more times than not I'd blurt out, "orecchiette!!". It's such a toothsome, fun pasta, each little hat holding a cache of some caught sauce or sausage under its brim. For this particular batch of orecchiette, I knew I wanted something with sundried tomatoes, for which I'd been nursing a heavy craving lately. I fixated on a pesto - only to find that the sole nuts in the house were....raw unshelled peanuts. I skipped nuts and presto, pistou! On a humid summer's eve, I appreciated a sauce sans nuts, as it was slightly lighter fare.

Make sure you're using jarred sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil for this recipe, and feel free to double the pistou batch - extra pistou makes a tasty spread on crusty garlic-rubbed crostini.

Orecchiette with Sausage & Sundried Tomato Pistou
Makes 4-6 servings
*1 packed cup sundried tomatoes
*1/4 cup densely packed fresh basil leaves, plus a few extra for garnish
*Scant 1/4 cup olive oil from the sundried tomato jar + extra as needed
*6 cloves garlic, 2 finely chopped
*2 tablespoons freshly grated Parm-Reg
*Pinch red pepper flakes
*About 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta (preferably De Cecco)
*2 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed

Make the pistou by blitzing the tomatoes, tomato oil, basil and 4 of the garlic cloves in a small food processor. Add the Parm, red pepper flakes and pinches of salt & pepper and taste until it's seasoned just so. It should be relatively thick , no need to thin it out to the consistency of its greener pesto cousins.  Set the pistou aside and put water on to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, saute the sausage until browned and cooked, breaking it up into small pieces, and then set aside. Add a touch of tomato oil to the pan, lower the heat and saute the finely chopped garlic cloves for about a minute or so and then add to the sausage. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and toss the orecchiette with a bit more of the tomato oil (it is proving indispensable, eh?). Add the pasta back to the pot, along with the pistou and sausage-garlic mix. Stir to combine thoroughly, adding a touch of the cooking water if necessary (it wasn't necessary for me, but reserve some just in case...!). Dish out and dust with extra Parm-Reg and aromatic ribbons of basil leaves.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mushroom Toasts

One of my favorite brunchy, lunchy dishes to make, the Mushroom Toast, came to me by way of inspiration from a restaurant called Sycamore. A few years back, I ordered mushroom toasts off the menu and was absolutely taken with the earthy umami savoriness of the simple appetizer, and immediately decided to include it in my own repertoire. After some tinkering, I've got it right where I want it - walnuts were the magical ingredient that lifted it to perfection. Use whatever mushrooms you like, but I've found that the trinity of shiitake, hen-of-the-woods and oyster is my favorite.

Mushroom Toasts
Makes 2 servings

*1 small shallot, minced
*5-6 oz melange of wild mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean and chopped
*3 cloves of garlic – 2 minced, 1 thinly sliced
*1/4 cup chopped walnuts
*1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
*1 pinch chili flakes
*1 squeeze fresh lemon juice
*Small knob butter (about 1/2 tablespoon)
*2 slices of toasted bread (ideally from a nice rustic loaf, but I've been known to use sandwich bread)
*Truffle oil (optional)
*Freshly grated Parm-Reg
*2 fried eggs (optional)

In a wide pan, heat a glug of oil over medium and add the minced shallot. Sprinkle with some salt and saute for a few minutes before adding in the garlic. Saute for another minute and then toss in the mushrooms. Cook for 4-5 minutes as they start to release their juices, then add the walnuts, thyme and chili flakes, season with S&P. Continue to cook a couple more minutes until the mushrooms are tender and have browned nicely. To finish, stir in the knob of butter, squeeze a lemon half gently over the mix and toss well. I usually spritz a fine mist of Trader Joe's Truffle Oil over the mix at that point, but there's plenty of flavor without it. Assemble the toasts by heaping the mushrooms over the bread (for extra tastiness, rub a cut garlic clove on top of the bread right after it has been toasted), then grate a little Parm-Reg over the mound and top each portion with a fried egg.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Blog Anniversary!

Today marks the first anniversary of ol' Zou, and I'm happy to say that I've found it a very worthwhile venture. It's rewarding to look back on a year-long panorama of personal cookery while savoring some of the highlights in my mind's mouth, to see how much I've learned since last May. It floors me when I think about everything I haven't learned... skills I haven't yet honed, ingredients I haven't yet tasted, preparations I've yet to master...but I can't wait to absorb more knowledge (and more tasty foodstuffs) as I continue to grow as an amateur home cook and food enthusiast. Blogging has proved helpful in this pursuit as it pushes me to be more culinarily creative and adventurous as I explore new and delectable content for my stomach, and for the internet. Plus, it's nice to have all my recipes in one readily and publicly accessible, non-soup-stained place.

I thank the husband, my friends, and the many anonymous readers for their support and encouragement in this past year!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fiddlehead & Shrimp Linguine

The lil' curlicues popping up from the dun-brown crowns of awakening ferns are among my favorite signs of spring - namely, because I can eat them. When cooked-crisp, fiddleheads are toothsome and have a lightly grassy, asparagus-esque taste to them. A perfect spring vegetable! You might be able to find them at better farmers' markets or at specialty food stores, but it's always more enjoyable to search them out and collect them yourself! When foraging, make sure you're clipping from edible (most likely ostrich) ferns, and only taking fiddleheads which have not yet unfurled. Regard the picture below to get the right idea. Also, be a pal and don't deplete an entire plant - I usually only take one or two fiddleheads per fern.  In springs past I've simply sauteed them with a hint of butter and s&p as a side for meat, steamed them lightly or even thrown 'em raw into salads, but this time the coiled fronds reminded me of the shrimp I had in the freezer, cutely tucked in similar position.  So, I decided to add them both into tangles of pasta. A little side salad of young dandelion greens, also foraged, completed the springy supper.

Happy foraging!

Fiddlehead and Shrimp Linguine
Makes 1-2 servings

*4 oz linguine
*1 handful fiddlehead ferns, washed thoroughly in a couple changes of water (brown flecks all removed)
*6-8 medium shrimp, cleaned
*2 tablespoons butter
*1 tablespoon minced shallot
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*1 pinch red pepper flakes
*2 tablespoons white wine
*1/2 teapsoon lemon zest
*Juice of 1/2 lemon
*Grated Parm-Reg

Set water on to boil for the pasta. Blanch the fiddleheads in another pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and rinse with cold water. Set aside. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium and saute the shallot and garlic for 4-5 minutes, adding a pinch of red pepper flakes near the end. Bump the heat up a little and add the fiddleheads and shrimp; saute about 2 minutes per side. Add the wine and lemon juice to deglaze. Reduce heat, stir in the zest and simmer for a few minutes, seasoning to taste. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet, tossing well. Dish out and dust with Parm-Reg.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lentil Tacos

Not only did we come home from our vacation feeling like fatted calves, but we also came home broke. I typically lean on legumes for my go-to broke-food, so I grabbed at my brown lentil stash for dinner. Some whole-wheat tortillas and an avocado laying innocuously around the pantry led my thoughts to Mexican flavors. I'd never made lentil tacos before; other household half was dubious when I announced my intentions, but these turned out to be outstanding. I wouldn't belittle the spiced lentils by calling them a "meat substitute", because I would gladly make these tacos again with or without meat in the house.

1 cup of lentils makes a lot of filling as I found out, so you'll easily have lunch for the next day or two. Man, are lentils the greatest, or what?

Lentil Tacos
Makes about 6-8 servings

*1 cup brown lentils
*3 cups water
*2 bay leaves
*Cooking oil
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1 onion, finely chopped
*1 teaspoon dried oregano
*2 teaspoons chili powder
*1 teaspoon ground cumin
*1/2 teaspoon paprika
*1/4 teaspoon cayenne
*1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
*1 chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced, plus a little extra adobo sauce
*About 1/2 cup beef stock (or vegetable stock, if you'd like to keep this veggie-friendly)

Rinse your lentils well, pick over for stones 'n such, and put them in a pot with the water (unsalted) and a couple bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a strong simmer. Cook the lentils for about 25--45 minutes or until they are tender, adding in more water if necessary during cooktime. I've found that older lentils take longer to cook than you might think! Strain and remove the bay leaves; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a wide skillet over medium heat, saute the onion in a little slick of oil for 8-9 minutes before throwing in the garlic. Saute a few minutes more. Add the spices and stir for another minute. Lower the heat slightly and add the lentils, the chipotle, and about 2 tablespoons of beef stock. Mash the lentils roughly for a few minutes, adding a little more beef stock to wetten the mix to desired consistancy. Season to taste with S&P, and then dish out into the tortilla or shell of your liking. I garnished mine with a slice of avocado, a squeeze of lime, shreds of smoked gouda, diced tomato and hot sauce, but feel free to dress yours in any way you see fit!

Hard taco shells or soft whole-wheat flour tortillas - both work equally well for tacos!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fennel & Celery Salad

Well, hello again! Finally disengaging from the vacation mode in which I've been coasting for nearly a month now. Montreal me manque, but after spending 6 days indulging in the most obsenely decadent fare this side of Greco-Roman bacchanalia, I'm in desperate need of a cleanse, a broom to the system. Other household half and I brought back a trunkful of fine, fine Québécois beer, maple products, a whole frozen duck (!), and other edible souviners, but for the time being I'm on a pretty stripped-down, heavy-on-the-green-stuff diet so as to shed the couple extra pounds I also brought back from over the border. Luckily, there are meals like this delicious Fennel & Celery Salad to make the diet not just palatable, but enjoyable. I've loved this combination ever since reading Mark Bittman's recipe for it a long while back, and make it frequently - it's simple, but the flavors marry brilliantly. Whether you're on a similar diet (summer's a'coming), or not, this'll go over well with your mouth.

Fennel & Celery Salad
Makes 2 servings

Adapted from Mark Bittman, recipe here

*1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, some fronds reserved and chopped
*3-4 celery ribs
*2 tablespoons EVOO
*1 tablespoon lemon juice, more to taste
*Mica-like shaves of Parm-Reg

Cut the fennel bulb in quarters and toss the outer layer if it's too tough or leathery. Remove the leafier parts and core from inside and discard. Use a mandoline to slice the fennel thinly into a bowl. Slice the celery into the bowl as well. I alternate between shaving down the length of a piece of stalk, and slicing thin crescents. Toss the celery, fennel and fennel fronds together; if the salad seems a little wet, I usually dry lightly with a paper towel before dishing out. Emulsify the lemon juice and EVOO, adding a big pinch of salt and pepper, and drizzle over each portion of the salad. Accent with flakes of parm, a spangling of pepper, and more fennel fronds.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

En Vacances...

Due to a recent spate of travel the blog has been neglected for the past few weeks, so I thought I'd check in to deliver a brief hello before heading up north to Montreal tomorrow (!). While I'm at it, here's a sunny, salty, tropical taste of my long weekend in Southern FL. I'll be back with more recipes in mid-April!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jambalaya with Creole Sauce

When my husband called to say he'd be bringing home some Cajun Kate's crawfish mac for dinner, my mind starting spinning twangy strains of a Hank Williams tune and my attention turned to Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen cookbook sitting on my shelf. Because what goes better with cajun food than more cajun food? It just so happened that I had all the fixings for jambalaya, so I consulted PP's section on the delicious rice dish. There were as many different ways to make jambalaya as there were recipes in the section, so after reading each one for guidance I struck off on my own, and am thrilled with the final result. I paired it with Prudhomme's recipe for "creole sauce", although it would be absolutely perfect on its own. Made for a great side with the fried mac (and will be a delicious lunch for the next few days!)

Jambalaya with Creole Sauce
Makes 5 servings


*3 tablespoons bacon fat or butter
*3 bay leaves
*1 teaspoon salt
*1/2 teaspoon cayenne
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
*1 teaspoon black pepper
*1 teaspoon dried oregano
*1 medium yellow onion, diced
*1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper
*1 cup diced celery
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
*1 1/2 cups diced tasso (or other smoked ham)
*1/2 cup tomato puree
*1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
*1 1/3 cup chicken stock
*1 teaspoon chipotle Tabasco
*1 cup medium-size raw shrimp, shelled, de-veined and cut in half

Melt the fat in a large dutch oven over medium heat and stir the seasonings together; set aside. Combine the diced vegetables in a bowl and mix well; add two cups of the "trinity" to the pot and saute for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and the spice mixture in the last couple of minutes. Add the chicken, and saute for a few minutes before throwing in the tasso. Cook for another few minutes and then add the tomato puree, rice, stock and Tabasco. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for about 25, 30 minutes. Uncover partially and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take the lid off altogether and bury the raw shrimp pieces in the mixture; cook another 6, 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the shrimp are done. At this point you can serve immediately, or leave it on the stove over very low heat for a while longer. Remember to take the bay leaves out before serving!

Creole Sauce

*3 tablespoons bacon fat or butter
*2 bay leaves
*1/2 teaspoon oregano
*1/2 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon black pepper
*1/2 teaspoon cayenne
*1/2 teaspoon paprika
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
*The rest of your chopped veg trinity (about 1 1/2 cups)
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*1 1/4 cups chicken stock
*1 cup tomato sauce (or puree)
*1 teaspoon Tabasco, or to taste

Melt the fat in a medium saucepan and mix the seasonings together. Add the vegetables and saute for 10 minutes, adding in the garlic and seasonings towards the end. Stir in the stock, tomato sauce, and Tabasco. Bring to a boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and then blend partially with an immersion blender to thicken the sauce. Simmer until jambalaya is ready to serve. To assemble, ladle creole sauce into a shallow dish and then top with a portion of jambalaya. Dust with chopped parsley, if you wish.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Maple Popcorn

Thursday evenings are sacred. They mark the close of my workweek, and are mine exclusively: other household half works until nearly nine on Thursdays. After toiling at work and at the gym, I come home, curl up on the couch with the kits, light some candles, crack a fine craft beer and pop in a movie. To add more comfort to this gloriously leisurely and peaceful scene might verge into overkill, but there's always room for the extra indulgence of freshly popped, warmly buttered corn. Since an impending Montreal vacation has been factoring heavily into my daydreams, I pulled out some of the exquisite syrup stash I have stocked up from last time and dribbled it in with melting butter to dress the popcorn. It made for an excellent batch - buttery, sweet, salty, perfect to munch while moviewatching. Pop yourself up a bowl and enjoy!

Maple Popcorn
Makes about 8 cups

*3 scant tablespoons of high smoke point oil
*1/3 cup unpopped corn kernels
*1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon butter
*1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon high quality maple syrup (No Jemima piffle, c'mon)
*Salt to taste 

Heat the oil in a large pot over just north of medium heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter with maple syrup in a small saucepan or in the microwave. To test the oil, put a few kernels into the pot and cover; wait until you hear them pop, and then add the full third cup to the pot.  Cover and remove from the heat for about 30 seconds, shaking the pot to evenly distribute and oil the kernels. Return the pot to medium heat and continue shaking the pot by moving it back and forth on the burner while the kernels explode within, occasionally pausing to pop the edge of the lid up ever so slightly to let steam out. Once the popping slows to several seconds in between pops, remove the pot from the heat and pour it into a very large bowl. Add the maple butter, toss, and salt to taste.

My Thursday eve

Monday, February 25, 2013

Banana-Walnut Muffins

After a generous cluster of bananas had seen me through breakfast for nearly a week, the stragglers were starting to turn gory-looking - just right for banana bread. However, I couldn't find my bread tin (!?), so I went the muffin route. Which, as it turned out, worked wonderfully...can't beat the convenience of palming a muffin before you dash madly out the door on the way to work. I slightly modified a banana bread recipe from Cooks Illustrated, a recipe had been loitering in my "To Try" folder for a while, and it produced delicious muffins! I'll have to keep this recipe around for the next time my banana bunch dwindles down to the dank dark dregs. Now, to find my bread tin....

Banana-Walnut Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

*2 cups flour
*1 cup toasted walnut pieces 
*3/4 cup sugar
*3/4 teaspoon baking soda
*1/2 teaspoon salt
*3 large grossly overripe bananas
*1/4 cup sour cream 
*2 eggs, beaten
*6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and walnuts together. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork, then add the sour cream, eggs, butter and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined (don't overmix). Divide the batter evenly around the greased muffin tin. Bake until the muffins are golden on top, approximately 20-23 minutes.

(Pro-tip - they're best warm, split, with a small pat of slowly melting butter)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pasta Frittata

Frittatas are just about the easiest, quickest, tastiest, and most versatile one-pan weeknight meals ever. They serve as an excellent vehicle for ridding the fridge of leftovers, and, are great leftovers themselves - an eggy wedge warmed up in the oven the morning after makes for a very tidy breakfast. I've gotten into the habit of making them when I have some extra cooked pasta lying around as I enjoy the extra heft the noodles provide, as well as the satisfying chewiness. Served with a big green salad and a glass of sparkling saison, it's a damn fine repast.

The beauty of the frittata is that it will gladly accommodate anything you bring to it, so if you don't have cooked pasta on hand, but rather a mess of veggies growing a wee bit long in the tooth? A surplus of luncheon meat? A bunch of ragged cheese bits? As long as you have eggs on hand, you have the beginnings of a delicious disc of dinner. Done.

Pasta Frittata
Makes 5-6 servings

*7 eggs
*2 tablespoons grated Parmesan (+ more for sprinkling on top)
*1 tablespoon chopped parsley
*5 sundried tomatoes, chopped
*Small dollop of bacon fat (or butter, or a bit of EVOO)
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*Pinch red pepper flakes
*1 heaping cup cooked pasta

Flick on your broiler. Whisk the eggs with pinches of salt and pepper, the cheese, parsley, and tomatoes. Melt the bacon fat over medium in a nonstick oven-safe skillet (I'm using a 9 inch) and saute the garlic until golden, then add the red pepper flakes and the pasta. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and guide it around all the nooks and crannies by tilting the pan if necessary, and cook over medium heat until the perimeter is completely set and the middle is getting close, about 8 minutes. If you want, finely grate some more cheese over top at this point (optional) and then stick it in the oven. Broil the frittata for about 3-4 minutes until it's golden and bubbly, watching to make sure it doesn't burn, then remove, slice and serve.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Roasted Carrot Soup with Carrot Top Pesto Crostini

A recent article about leafy tops of certain root vegetables on The Kitchn had me reconsidering my habit of blithely chucking them, especially after my attention snagged on a link for Grilled Cheese with carrot top pesto. I happen to have a thing for unconventional pestos, so this weekend when I found myself with a nice bunch of organic carrots, an unruly shock of greens still attached, I seized the opportunity to try the pesto recipe out. The carrots went towards a batch of carrot soup, a standard of mine. Usually I spice it with a big pinch of ras el hanout, but with good, sweet carrots and a zingy pesto in the mix, I just let the carrot flavor speak for itself this time. The pesto, which I slathered on toasted baguette slices, turned out to be a pretty awesome pairing with the soup - the acidity of the lemon juice and the mildly bitter flavor of the greens added a lovely balance to the bowl. I'll certainly be saving shorn carrot tops from now on, I love the idea of buying two vegetables for the price of one!

Roasted Carrot Soup with Carrot Top Pesto Crostini
Makes 1 large serving or 2 modest servings

*1 bunch (1 lb) organic carrots with greens attached
*Half of a small white potato
*4 cloves garlic, 2 minced
*1 tablespoon butter
*1 cup vegetable stock
*1 cup water
*1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
*Juice of 1/2 lemon
*1 heaping tablespoon grated asiago cheese
*Slices of good crusty bread

Heat oven to 420 degrees. Cut the tops off of the carrots. Tear enough of the leafier parts from the harder stems to equal two heaping cups. Wash and dry the greens well, and set them aside. Peel the carrots and potato and dice into 1 inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper (I use a harissa-infused olive oil, which adds a hint of heat) and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Stir the vegetables and reduce the heat to 300; roast another 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, in a pot, melt the butter and saute the minced garlic. Add the stock and water, a sprinkle of salt and pepper (and red pepper flakes, if you're not using a spicy olive oil and would like a little heat). Add the roasted carrots and potatoes and simmer until the vegetables are all very soft. Blitz the contents of the pot in a blender or with an immersion stick, and then strain the soup with a sieve to get it as silky as possible. I like a thicker soup, but you can thin it with a little water or stock if you prefer. Season to taste.
For the pesto crostini, brush one side of the bread slices with a little olive oil, then place on a cookie sheet and flick on the broiler for a few minutes until the slices are toasted. Blend the garlic cloves, carrot greens, lemon juice, asiago and pinches of S&P together in a small food processor, and then drizzle in the olive oil until it is of pesto consistency. Spread on the toasted bread and serve the crostini with the soup.
Makes between a third and a half-cup of pesto.

NOTE: There is a fair amount of discussion on the internet about the supposed toxicity of carrot tops, but that claim appears to be totally a myth. From reading very reputable sources, I have come to the conclusion that carrot greens are NOT toxic, but may cause mild allergic reactions in a small segment of the population. In any case, I ate my carrot greens and loved 'em, but to eat or not to eat is up to you! I say go for it. Free greens with purchase of any organic carrots. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Seared Scallops with Blood Orange Sauce and Bitter Greens

After nearly two weeks straight of soups, stews, and other hearty fare consumed to chase away the flinty chill of deep winter, I felt compelled to make something light and dainty for dinner - especially since the air has warmed and sweetened over the past few days! A flavorful vision of seared scallops, one of my favorite "dainty" foods, and a citrusy, piquant sauce immediately came to mind. My local fine foods grocer has a huge cache of blood oranges right now, so I picked up a few for the sauce cause - it's always a little thrill to slice into a blood orange and see vivid wet crimson, striations of rust and oxblood, when the eyes are primed to expect plain orange.

A small knoll of bitter greens and little ruby-red jewels of pomegranate scattered around the plate completed the scallop scene. It was exactly the kind of delicious and delicate dinner for which I yearned! If you have heavy winter food fatigue as well, you should give this one a go.


Seared Scallops with Blood Orange Sauce and Bitter Greens
Makes 2 servings

*6-8 sea scallops
*Juice of 2 blood oranges (about 2/3 cup)
*1 teaspoon dry sherry
*1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
*2 cups assorted bitter greens (I used rocket, dandelion greens and chicory)
*Seeds from about a quarter of a pomegranate
*Tiny lengthwise snips of a scallion, for garnish
*1 1/2 tablespoons butter + canola oil

Wash and dry your greens and winnow the pomegranate seeds out from within the annals of the fruit, set aside. Rinse and thoroughly pat dry your scallops, making sure to trim the muscle off the sides if need be. Lightly toast the peppercorns until fragrant and grind into a powder in a spice grinder.

Meanwhile, melt the butter with a dribble of canola oil in a cast-iron skillet on medium-high and season the scallops with the pinch of peppercorn dust and kosher salt on each side. When the skillet is hot and the butter has foamed, lay the scallops in and sear on each side for about a minute and a half. Remove to a warm platter, reduce the heat and add the the orange juice, sherry, and the rest of the ground peppercorns to the skillet. Stir, scraping the bottom, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, which will likely happen quickly. Divide the greens and scallops between two plates. Pour the pan sauce through a small sieve and over the scallops, and then scatter some pomegranate seeds around the perimeter. Garnish the scallops with snips of scallion.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Turkey Avocado-Blue Sandwiches with Kale Chips

Perhaps not a La Rochefoucauld-minted maxim, but "Everything Tastes Better with Bacon" is nonetheless a simple, amaranthine truth. Less constant is "Everything Tastes Better with Avocado", but when it comes to sandwiches, the saying is: Absolutely Correct. Biting through the layers of any given sandwich, it is always a pleasure to come across a rich, buttery wealth of avocado. For this particular specimen, instead of simply cutting the avocado into slices I decided to mash the pale green fruit flesh with some blue cheese (Gorgonzola), a delicious combo reminiscent of Nigella Lawson's "Roquamole". I slathered it on the bread as a spread before stacking the bacon, turkey, tomato, Swiss and lettuce. I opted for some verdant kale chips on the side for a tidy noontime meal, but you could just as well serve the sandwich next to a luscious bisque for a quick and hearty dinner.

Turkey Avocado-Blue Sandwiches
Makes 2 Sandwiches

*4 slices of your preferred bread (I'm using a rustic loaf from my local bakery)
*Half an avocado
*Heaping 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese of your choice
*Squeeze of lemon juice
*Romaine lettuce leaves
*4 slices good slab bacon
*6 oz deli-sliced turkey
*2-4 thin slices of tomato
*4 thin slices of a nutty Swiss

Fry bacon until crisp, blot on paper towels. After splitting 'n pitting the avocado, remove the flesh from the jacket and mash with the cheese and a squeeze of lemon until it resembles a thick spread. Lightly toast your bread, and then spread two slices with the avocado-blue cheese mix. Assemble the lettuce, bacon, turkey, tomato and Swiss as well as any other fixings of your choice, and presto, sandwich! I usually wrap the other half of the avocado well in Saran and pop in the fridge for the next day, but you could always mash it up with more cheese, a squeeze of lemon and a dusting of paprika for an excellent quick dip.

You may find my kale chips post here

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Venison Steaks with Blueberry Sauce

One of my best friends is a bird trainer, and routinely hacks down donated deer carcasses for raptor food...however, on occasion, she will casually set aside a nice backstrap or two for me when their freezers runneth over. I am very spoiled by this, and have come to love the subtly feral taste of venison even more than I like the taste of beef. If you can't come by venison from a local source, a reputable online source would be D'artagnan. Of course, you could make this recipe with other meats, but I highly suggest searching out venison. It pairs exceptionally well with a savory fruit sauce, and after trying a few different fruit sauces over time, I think I've concocted something here that I'm going to stick with in the future. The picture may not look like much, especially since I didn't have my new DSLR on hand, but I promise you that the blueberry sauce is delicious. You could skew much classier than I did and serve the venison over something that isn't egg noodles, but I wanted a good catch-all for that sauce!

Venison Steaks with Blueberry Sauce
Serving sizes will vary depending on the size of your backstrap

*1 venison backstrap
*1 tablespoon plus 1/2 tablespoon butter
*1 teaspoon high smoke point oil
*1/3 cup abbey-style ale (Ommegang's Abbey Ale, if you please)
*1 cup beef broth
*1 heaping cup blueberries (I only had frozen on hand)
*1 tablespoon minced shallots
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Take the backstrap out to temper for about 30 minutes before preparation, and then slice it into steaks about 1 1/2 inches thick. In a small saucepan bring the beef stock and blueberries to a boil and reduce down until you have a cup of the stock/blueberry mixture.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and melt a tablespoon of butter drizzled with the oil. When hot, sear the venison steaks 2 1/2-3 minutes on each side, in batches if necessary. 3 minutes and you're verging into medium-rare territory which is the absolute limit - venison will become unpleasantly tough if you cook it past medium-rare. Using tongs, briefly kiss the sides, and then transfer to a warm platter. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the shallots and saute quickly before adding the abbey ale. Deglaze, stirring and scraping up brown bits with a wooden spoon before adding the cup of broth and blueberries. Sprinkle in the thyme and simmer, stirring, until mixture has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and then whisk half a tablespoon of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste. Ladle over the steaks and serve with a salad of dark greens as well as something to mop up the sauce.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Tender, savory orbs of meat nestled in a simple tomato sauce - the basic definition of comfort food. I make these about twice a month, usually whenever I start hankering for a batch of Sunday Gravy. I've been through many, many recipes for meatballs over the years, borrowing what has worked from all those past attemps and dropping what didn't, and this, my current staple recipe, consistantly churns out some damn tasty meatballs. Whether you serve 'em over a hill of spaghetti, sandwiched in a soft sub roll, or on their own, they are sure to please.

This recipe is written and delivered unto you with the assumption that you'll have a wide deep pot of tomato sauce already simmering away on the stove before you start to stick your hands into a bowl of raw meat. Peep the Sunday Gravy post if you'd like a recipe for a good'un.

Makes 9-12 meatballs, depending on size

*1 lb ground beef (I normally use 85-15) 
*A few handfuls of ground pork (somewhere in the area of ...3 oz?)
*1 slice white bread, crusts removed
*1/2 cup milk or cream 
*1 egg, lightly beaten
*1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
*1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
*1/4 cup finely grated Parm-Reg
*1 tablespoon finely grated Romano
*1 tablespoon finely chopped parsely
*A hearty spoonful or two of whatever tomato sauce you're making to accompany the 'balls

In a small dish, soak the bread in milk. Using your hands, mix the ground beef, pork, egg, shallot, garlic, cheeses, parsley, a couple pinches of salt and pepper, and a spoonful or two of the tomato sauce in a large bowl. Squeeze most of the milk from the bread and shred the soggy slice into bitty pieces, folding them into the mix, being careful to not overwork the meat. Wet your hands with water and lightly roll meatballs out to your desired size, then slip them carefully into your simmering sauce. Cook for about 35 minutes, making sure not to disturb for the first 5-10 minutes or so. Serve as you see fit!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Masala Chai

I first stumbled onto the idea of homemade masala chai while reading a post on Design*Sponge; I'd indulged in a chai latte from time to time, but never thought of making my own blend. Ultimately I found I preferred a more heavily spiced version than the recipe offered by D*S, but they definitely provided me with the inspiration and framework. I've become quite addicted to my blend over time, especially during the more frigid months - it is so invigorating to inhale the fragrant steam coming off the liquid, and feel the glowing warmth of the spices with every sip. Make yourself a cuppa, set down with a good book, and enjoy!

Cup and saucer from Rachel Kozlowski

Masala Chai
Makes 2 servings

*2 cups water
*6 crushed cardamom pods
*6 cloves
*1/2 inch cube ginger
*1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
*1 inch piece cinnamon stick
*2 black tea bags
*Steamed milk (optional)

Bring the water, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and ginger to a boil in a pot. Add tea bags and reduce heat to low; simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for another 5-10 minutes. Strain tea, discarding solids. If you want a milky beverage, use a 2-1 chai to milk ratio... I myself prefer the spiced tea alone!