Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31: Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables

Chicken is my go-to meal. I love that it's reliable, flexible, and a perfect springboard for jumping off to almost anywhere. It is healthy--sometimes healthier than other times, depending on how it's prepared--and it's widely available. Almost every picky eater I've ever known has been open to at least some variation of chicken. My sister-in-law, who will seriously eat almost nothing, loves chicken enchiladas.

A simple roasted chicken is that perfect jumping-off point that I talked about. Roast two of them, and one of them is dinner tonight, and tomorrow night, it's chicken burritos or chicken divan or chicken and vegetables in a casserole with noodles.

God, there are a lot of ways to screw this up though. When Dan and I first started going out, he had a Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven. That's the one: Set it and WALK AWAY! I loved that thing: I used to roast 12 heads of garlic in the basket in it. The entire apartment building smelled like roasted garlic. Dan would come in from work and be able to smell roasted garlic in the parking lot outside. I would squish it out of the heads and mash it and use it on pizza, or in pasta, or in a tomato sauce with oven-roasted tomatoes in the dead of winter, when the tomatoes taste like cardboard. I have forgotten totally that I'm supposed to be talking about chicken.

What I was going to say before I started thinking about garlic was that the Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven made a perfect roasted chicken. Season it, impale it, and let that sucker spin. The thing even turned itself off. Sadly, the Ron Popeil Showtime Rotisserie Oven died on Thanksgiving 2005, and out she went. And living in a house with a smallish kitchen, I really can't justify a new one.

No sweat. I am reasonably proficient in the kitchen; I can roast a damn chicken in the oven. Right? Well, yeah. But like I said before, there are so many ways to screw this thing up. Dry, overcooked chicken that tastes like sawdust, or charred on the outside and still raw inside, or swathed in flabby, limp, greasy chicken skin. Yuck.

There are as many ways to roast chicken as there are...well, there are enough that my five readers could roast chicken in a variety of ways for several weeks without running out. I love butterflied chicken under a broiler, with lemon and red pepper flakes. But the most simple, pure thing you can do with it is to brine it, season it and roast it in a v-rack in a moderate oven. It is almost flawlessly juicy, well-seasoned, and perfectly cooked.

This recipe is for two 3-to-4-pound chickens. If you can find a bigger, 6-to-8 pound bird, by all means, go for it. I like having the extra breast meat though, it's my favorite part of the bird, so I like cooking two. And I of course love the vegetables that get cooked alongside the chicken. This recipe from America's Test Kitchen is perfect for me. It serves 4-6 generously.

Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables


Chicken and Brine
1 1/2 cups table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 medium heads garlic, outer papery skins removed, cloves separated, unpeeled, and crushed
6 bay leaves, crumbled
2 whole chickens (3 to 4 pounds each), giblets removed and discarded
Ground black pepper
1 cup low sodium chicken broth, or more as needed

1 pound small red potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
1 pound medium carrots , peeled, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, tapered ends left whole, large upper portions halved lengthwise
1/2 pound parsnips , peeled, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces, tapered ends left whole, large upper portions halved lengthwise
1/2 pound yellow onions(small, 2- to 3-inch diameter), peeled, root end left intact, and quartered
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. FOR THE CHICKENS AND BRINE: Dissolve salt and sugar in 1 gallon cold water in large container. Stir in garlic and bay; immerse chickens and refrigerate until fully seasoned, about 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Set V-rack in large flameproof roasting pan and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray. Remove chickens from brine and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.

3. Season chickens on all sides with pepper; set wing side up on prepared V-rack and roast for 20 minutes. Remove roasting pan from oven and, using 2 wads of paper towels, rotate chickens so other wing side faces up; continue to roast for 20 minutes.

4. Remove roasting pan from oven and, using 2 large wads paper towels, rotate chickens breast side up. Add 1 cup broth and continue to roast until chickens are golden brown and instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, 30 to 40 minutes. (If necessary, add more broth to maintain thin layer of broth on bottom of roasting pan.) Transfer chickens to cutting board and let rest, uncovered, while roasting vegetables; remove V-rack from roasting pan.

5. FOR THE VEGETABLES: While chickens are resting, adjust oven rack to middle position and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Using wooden spoon, scrape browned bits in roasting pan and pour liquid into fat separator. Return now-empty roasting pan to oven and heat until oven reaches 500 degrees, about 5 minutes. Toss vegetables with oil, salt, and pepper.
6. Scatter vegetables in single layer in roasting pan, arranging potatoes and onions cut side down. Roast, without stirring, for 25 minutes.

7. While vegetables are roasting, pour off 1/2 cup liquid from fat separator; discard remaining liquid and fat. Remove roasting pan from oven and heat broiler. Drizzle liquid over vegetables and broil, 5 minutes. Stir vegetables, coating well with reducing liquid, and continue to broil until tender and deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving platter.

8. While vegetables are broiling, carve chickens. Transfer to platter with vegetables and serve.

Increasingly Dangerous Cheese

A Month In The Kitchen

Well, we're approximately one month into my little food blogging experiment. I can't speak for my, like, five readers or whatever, but I am having a great time. This is a great exercise for me in discipline and preparation--something I have to think about in advance and plan for. Also, if I don't have something really great to say, I don't have the option of not saying anything. Some might say that's ill-advised. My mother would say that I love the sound of my own voice. Both of those things are probably true.

How's it going for you? Have you made any of the recipes I've put up over the last month? Have they been blowouts or failures or just meh? I am really excited about some of the feedback I've gotten, and if you're out there making some of my food, I would love to hear how it's working out for you.

I've reviewed one restaurant and I have plans to do at least one more. We live in the D.C. area, so I will probably review mostly local restaurants, with a few exceptions, but we don't go out that much. We are planning a long weekend in Ocean City, Maryland, next month, so I might eke some reviews out from that--there's one Mexican restaurant in town that I remember from being there two years ago, and holy smokes, the best margaritas I have ever tasted. If there's a local restaurant you'd like to see me review sometime, I'm totally willing, but please keep in mind that I'm a writer and my husband's a teacher and we have a little person who will probably want to go to some shwanky private liberal arts college in fifteen years; so not only am I a girl on a budget but the budget doesn't typically include babysitters. Don't go and send me off to some high-end $300 dinner at a place where I'll get glared at when my kid throws pasta on the floor.

What else would you like to see recipes for? I try to keep things sort of balanced--not terribly complicated dishes that can be prepared in a reasonable amount of time, some meatless main dishes because, you know, that's good for us, snacks, sides, bread...even a cookie or two. I know not everybody likes to cook the same thing. What would you like to see more or less of?

Thanks, also, to Merseydoats and Kimberly for the props. They both linked me on their blogs this month, and I've seen a little increase in traffic thanks to it. I heart you both for being my two most consistent readers.

So, that's my first month roundup. I hope you'll hook me up with some feedback.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30: Brown Sugar Cookies

I am not a big fan of fancy cookies. My favorite: plain chocolate chip cookies--no nuts, no fruit, no crazy additions. I like a simple cookie done really well, without sprinkles or frosting or any crazy flavors.

When I saw this recipe for brown sugar cookies in Cook's Illustrated, I knew they had something. Great big oversized cookies, with a crispy exterior and a chewy interior, it had the simplicity of a great sugar cookie with all the nuances of dark brown sugar.

One of the great things about Cook's Illustrated is that they do the work of finding the best recipe for you. They've tested and tasted and tried every variation by the time it makes it into their magazines or cookbooks or their PBS shows. By the time it gets to you, it's pretty much as good as it gets.

They hit the jackpot with these cookies. Wow. They are really something--full of great brown sugar flavor, chewy, complex and made from pantry staples. I think a plate of these with big bowls of coffee ice cream would make a great Friday night dessert, if you're a dessert person. Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Brown Sugar Cookies

14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow bakind dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.

Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 3 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.

Divided dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 incues apart.

Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 12-14 minutes. They will still look raw between cracks and seem underdone. Do not overbake.

Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 29: Marinated or Dry-Rubbed Flank Steak

Kimberly and I were talking about steak the other day. She is a pregnant vegetarian whose baby is craving meat (sure, blame the baby) and still, she isn't interested in steak. Generally speaking, in a restaurant, steak's not what I choose, unless I run across a classic French onglet, a hangar steak with herb butter and real steak frites, which is rare, or a decent skirt steak, also rare.

The only steak I ever really make at home, besides an occasional exceedingly-special-occasion filet, is flank steak. I love the great chewy texture and the big, bold, beefy taste. Also, it gives me an excuse to come up with some kind of great marinade or rub and fire up the grill.

Flank steak is a decent stand-in for skirt steak, which isn't a cut that most grocery stores carry, in fajitas. Here's the deal, though--flank steak has to be cut across the grain. The meat fibers, run in one direction which is easy to see. When you cut it, you have to cut across those fibers. Otherwise, it's like eating beef-flavored shoelaces.

Flank steak is very lean. Even if you're not a fan of meat cooked to anything other than a blackened cinder, I urge you: do not cook flank steak past medium, or, ideally, medium rare, or you may as well just forget about it.

Try either this marinade or rub (but not both). Both are great on the flank steak. Don't bother with the grill. It's winter, haven't you heard? Fire up the broiler. Same idea: a source of high heat.

While the steak is under the broiler, throw together a great salad, with mesculine greens, diced tomatoes, red onion slivers, shredded carrots, a few crumbles of gorgonzola or other blue cheese, and chopped, toasted pecans. Slice the steak thinly, across the grain and on an angle, and pile on top of the salads. Or mash a couple of boiled, peeled Yukon Gold potatoes with three or four skillet-toasted cloves of garlic, half a stick of melted butter, and a handful of grated smoked cheddar cheese, and serve the steak slices piled over the potatoes, with any accumulated juices. Or wrap the slices in a soft tortilla with some sauteed onions and peppers and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.

What I'm trying to say is, you can't go wrong with great flank steak. This one will serve four generously in any of the applications I mentioned above.

Dry Rubbed or Marinated Flank Steak

1 1/2 pounds flank steak, visible fat removed, if any

For peppered rosemary marinade:
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons minced flatleaf parsley

or for spice rub:
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Combine all ingredients for marinade or dry rub. If marinating, put marinade in shallow dish or large resealable plastic bag. Add steak, turn to coat. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours. If dry-rubbing, sprinkle on the spice mixture and run into both sides of the meat with clean hands. Cover and let sit for 2-4 hours.

Preheat broiler to 500 degrees. Place oven rack in highest position.

Put flank steak on a broiler pan and slide under broiler for 4 minutes for rare, 6 for medium rare. Turn and broil an additional 3-4 minutes for rare, 4-6 for medium rare. Remove from oven and tent loosely with foil to rest for 15 minutes. Slice thinly on the bias and across the grain. Serve.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Meatless Main Dish Monday: Fried Potato Tacos with Pears and Roquefort

Almost any food that I like tastes even better wrapped up in a tortilla. One of my favorite meals of the past year was eaten in a Mexican restaurant in Western Michigan and consisted of a roasted poblano chile stuffed with cheese and onions, fried, and wrapped in a flour tortilla. It was simple and perfect, the kind of meal I will spend the next 11 months thinking about, or until the next time that we're in Michigan.

Dan and I had plain old ground beef tacos tonight, and as we did, we talked about our favorite taco fillings. We both love ground turkey tacos with sweet corn; we both love tacos with stewed chicken, fried beans, and olives. But even better, we both love fried potato tacos in soft flour tortillas.

This taco lends itself really well to big flavor accompanying it. Rich, sharp, stinky cheese melted over top, and sweet diced pears scattered over the whole thing--oh, man. There is nothing like it.

Save yourself some time: buy diced, frozen hash browns--not the shredded ones but the ones that are cut into little cubes. Otherwise, you're scrubbing, peeling, dicing, parcooking, and frying instead of eating tacos. Believe me, you'd rather be eating these.

To easily warm flour tortillas, put a stack of them on a paper plate, cover them tightly with plastic wrap, and microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

Serves 4 generously.

Fried Potato Tacos with Pears and Roquefort

1-pound bag frozen southern-style hash browns (the cubed ones, not the shredded ones), thawed and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chile powder
1/3 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely diced white onion
2 medium pears, seeded and finely diced
1 cup crumbled Danish bleu cheese or roquefort
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced medium
12 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they are translucent and soft, 6-8 minutes. Add the chile powder, cayenne, and salt, stir over medium heat until they are fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the potatoes to the skillet and cook over medium-medium high heat until browned and crispy, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes.

Lower the heat to low. Spread the diced pears and the roquefort over the fried potatoes and cover the pan to let the roquefort melt over the potatoes.

To serve: put about 1/4 cup of the potato-cheese mixture down the center of a warm tortilla. Garnish with diced red bell peppers and cilantro, a dab of sour cream, diced avocado, or a drizzle of salsa. I especially like a hot green salsa with this dish.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 27: Chicken Piccata with Fried Capers

Chicken piccata is one of my favorite things to order in a restaurant. When done well, it is balanced, fresh-tasting, simple, and bright. When done badly, it is gooey, sour, and unpleasant.

It's a lot of effort to put in at home, I have to admit. Cutting chicken breasts into cutlets, pounding them, prepping a long list of ingredients, and carrying out the excessively precise timing that's required is a hassle, more hassle than I like to put in at home, unless it's a special occasion.

This recipe minimizes the fuss, as does the fact that you can now buy decent-quality chicken cutlets in the grocery store. It's a sauteed chicken breast with a pan sauce, which is not a complicated thing to make, really. If you can't find a decent cutlet--one that's not irregularly-sized or chewed up by the machinery that cuts them--you can slice the chicken breast in half horizontally yourself. Put the chicken breast on a cutting board, and holding a very sharp knife parallel to the board, slice through the breast. Keep your hand flat on top of the breast to hold it in place. I would serve this with a simple side of spaghetti with some kind of very uncomplicated sauce, or mashed potatoes, and some steamed broccoli.

Serves 2-3.

Chicken Piccata with Fried Capers

2 tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chicken breast cutlets, pounded to 1/3-1/4-inch thickness
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed though a garlic press
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Rinse the capers and pat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the capers and stir-fry until most of them open like flowers and become crisp and slightly brown, 30-60 seconds. Remove from the heat and transfer the capers to a dry paper towel with a soup spoon, tilting each spoonful against the side of the pan to let the excess oil drain back into the pan.

Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Heat the skillet over medium high heat, saute the cutlets in batches until golden and just cooked through, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm.

With the pan still over medium-high heat, add the garlic and saute until lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits. Simmer until reduced by about half. Stir in the lemon juice and honey, turn off the heat, add the butter, and swirl the pan until the butter melts and thickens the saucfe. Stir in the parsley and about half the capers. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, scatter the remaining capers over it, and serve.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

January 26: Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry

I think brunch is an underused social occasion. Most people like to go out for brunch; I like to invite people over. It's a great excuse to sit around in the dining room for hours, lingering over coffee. Nobody's got to hurry home because they've got to be at work the next morning, nobody's got to get the kids to bed. When we live in a house that can accommodate more than just the three of us space-wise, I pledge to invite people over for brunch more often.

Besides, brunch food is great. In college, my friend Ryan invited me home to Western New York with him for Fall Break one year, and his mother made a potato casserole that was just All it was, was thawed frozen country-style hashbrowns mixed with sour cream and cheddar cheese and baked. I love to make it with turkey sausage, browned and mixed in. I occasionally make a breakfast strata with spinach and bacon--it involves making it ahead of time and refrigerating overnight, and it's like a savory bread pudding. Delicious.

This dish, the scrambled eggs in puff pastry, is worth having people over for, but it's easy enough to just make for people who already live in your house with you. It takes a little time and effort, but it's worth doing. Let the puff pastry thaw on the counter while you prepare the other ingredients. It'll save you a little time at least. Serves 4-6.

Scrambled Eggs in Puff Pastry

7 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 9x9 1/2-inch sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed
Flour for dusting
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
8 ounces sliced ham

Whisk 6 of the eggs together with the salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to coat the pan evenly. Add the eggs and cook while gently pushing, lifting, and folding them from one side of the pan to the other until they are nicely clumped, shiny, and wet, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a large plate and refrigerate until cool, about fifteen minutes.

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and smooth out the creases. Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush a thin layer over the pastry. Divide the chilled scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham into two equal portions. Arrange one portion of the scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham over th bottom half of the pastry, leaving a 1/2 inch border at the edges. Fold the top half of the pastry over the filling and press down with a fork to seal the edges. Repeat this process with the remaining puff pastry sheet, eggs, cheese, and ham. Transfer both pastries to a rimmed baking sheet, wrap lightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the pastries from the refrigerator, remove the plastic wrap, and brush the tops with the remaining beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before cutting into individual portions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25: Quick Cheese Bread

This may not be quick, but it is bread and cheese. Quick is a misleading term when it comes to this recipe; it refers to the fact that the bread contains no yeast and is instead risen with other leaveners--baking powder specifically.

I made two loaves of this for my mother's annual Christmas party this year. I was, frankly, stunned at the reception that it received. I thought it was a humble, albeit very enjoyable loaf of quick bread. I made maybe 10 copies of the recipe before the party ended and handed it out to my mother's friends. It was, surprisingly, the star of the show this year.

This is really a great loaf of bread. If you have leftovers, and I recommend doubling this recipe so that you will have leftovers, you can thick-slice it, smear it with honey mustard, pile it with shaved smoked deli ham, and top it with sliced cheese, then run it under the broiler. It is both delicious and a great cure for a hangover.

Makes one 9-inch loaf.

Quick Cheese Bread

3 ounces parmesan cheese, shredded on the large holes of a box grater (about one cup)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, or mild Asiago cheese, cumbled into 1/4-to-1/2 inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, then sprinkle 1/2 cup of the parmesan evenly over the bottom of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and black powder to combine. Using a rubber spatula, mix in the cheddar, breaking up clumps, until it is coated with the flour mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, egg, and sour cream. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined (the batter will be heavy and thick). Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan; spread to the sides of the pan and level the surface with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan evenly over the surface.

Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack 5 minutes; invert the loaf onto the rack, turn right-side up, and continue to cool until warm, about 45 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

January 24: Broccoli Rabe With Garlic and Red Pepper Flakes

I love broccoli rabe. For one thing, every time I make it, I feel like Carmella Soprano. Learning to like it has come hand-in-hand with learning to like greens of all kind. Turning on to cooked greens was tough for me--everything tasted like hot lettuce to me, until I started getting good greens, not overcooked, skunky, slimy greens that smell like Oscar the Grouch's armpit. Have I mentioned that my mother is good at many things, but cooking isn't always one of them?

Broccoli rabe can be tough and bitter; blanching it in well-salted water takes care of both of these problems. Once it's tender, you can saute it with any combination of good aromatics and eat it as a side dish, or toss it with cooked pasta and cooked, sliced Italian sausage with lots of grated parmesan cheese. It's not always easy for me to find broccoli rabe in the grocery stores, but when I can, I buy as much of it as is practical. I love it. This serves 4.

Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Red Pepper Flakes

1 bunch broccoli rabe (about 14 ounces), washed, bottom 2 inches of stems trimmed and discarded, remainder cut into 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
table salt

1. Bring 3 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Stir in broccoli rabe and salt and cook until wilted and tender, about 2 1/2 minutes. Drain broccoli rabe and set aside.

2. Cool empty saucepan by rinsing under cold running water. Fill cooled saucepan with cold water and submerge broccoli rabe to stop the cooking process. Drain again; squeeze well to dry, or spin dry in a salad spinner.

3. Heat oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in medium skillet over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle, about 3 to 4 minutes. Increase heat to medium high, add blanched broccoli rabe, and cook, stirring to coat with oil, until heated through, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt; serve immediately.

What I Want For Valentine's Day

Have you seen those green tea roses that are around now? Golly, I wish I'd known about those for my wedding--they are absolutely lovely, very subtle, and beautiful paired with blue hydrangea, which my attendants and I carried with white roses--lovely, but I think that these would have had even more impact:

Dan loves to buy me flowers and does so with no encouragement at all. It's really a very nice thing in a husband. Last year on Valentine's Day, three dozen red roses appeared at my office with the sweetest note I'd ever read. And everyone in my office all got together, gathered around my desk, and said in unison, "Awwwwwwwwwwwwww."
You know, I'm a pretty practical girl. The flowers are nice, but this year, I want something else. My mother knows me pretty well, and this year for Christmas, she stuffed my stocking with jars of spices from Penzey's Spices. Are you familiar? It's a spice company that not only sells a wide variety of herbs and spices, but also sells blends. Last night, for example, I had popcorn with Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle on it, and it was a great effort for me not to lick the bowl.
My husband rarely reads anything I write; it's the curse of being married to an English teacher. By the time he's done reading 130 essays written by functionally-illiterate 9th graders every week, he's pretty much all done with the reading, although he did mention to me the other night, when I left my laptop open on the couch, that he agreed with everything I said about Shane's Rib Shack. Anyway, I doubt he'll see this, but if he does: Dan, don't send me flowers. Send me these things instead:
Flowers are great and everything, and you can't go wrong with them. This year, though, I would be willing to forego the traditional Valentine's Day gifts if the mailman were to turn up on my doorstep with a giant basket full of spice blends. Does that make me weird? A little. Am I okay with that? Oh yes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January 23: Potato Gnocchi With Sage and Brown Butter

I love that my son is developing an eclectic palate. He eats more stuff than either my husband or I do. In fact, the only weird thing he hates is guacamole. Want to see a kid who appears to have been poisoned? Sneak a spoonful of guacamole into his food. Weird.

He particularly loves this, especially with a piece of deli rotisserie chicken and steamed broccoli or cauliflower. And it really is just incredibly easy, with minimal prep time and effort. Just the sight of me getting out a box of Potato Buds (and yes, I really do make these with instant mashed potatoes; it makes this into a weeknight dinner as opposed to an all-day Sunday project) is enough to send him into happy convulsions on the kitchen floor. These remind me a little bit of spaetzel, which my grandmother used to make when I was young, but I like the slightly more adult touch of the brown butter, which tastes nutty and sweet and rich, along with the satisfying element that the potato brings.

This may not be a popular opinion, but I love how easy it is to use rubbed sage in this recipe. The effort of locating and chopping a big handful of sage for a Tuesday-night dinner is really sort of counterintuitive to me, especially when there are places like Penzey's where you can find very good quality dried herbs. There are a few exceptions to this rule--I never used dried parsley, basil, cilantro, or chives, for example--but I am okay with dried sage, especially because the fresh version of this plant has to be treated with some care and cooked well--when raw it tastes a little cottony.

Serves 4 generously.

Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

1 cup dry potato flakes
1 cup boiling water
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, or 2 teaspoons fresh sage, minced
1 small clove of garlic, pressed or minced
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Place potato flakes in a medium-size bowl. Pour in boiling water; stir until blended. Let cool.

2. Stir in egg, salt, and pepper. Blend in enough flour to make a fairly stiff dough. Turn dough out on a well floured board. Knead lightly.

3. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a long thin roll, the thickness of a breadstick. With a knife dipped in flour, cut into bite-size pieces. Roll each down the back of the tines of a fork, applying enough pressure to leave shallow ridges.

4. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook, stirring, until butter is a toasty brown, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and sage and stir. Cook until garlic is lightly browned and sticky. Do not burn. Reduce heat to low.

4. Place gnocchi in boiling water. As the gnocchi rise to the top of the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet. Toss with butter. Taste for salt and pepper, serve immediately with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

January 22: Cheese Straws

Puff pastry is great. It's versatile, easy to use, affordable--and it comes right straight out of the freezer. You can make your own, if you really feel like you have to--it's an important skill for pastry chefs to have--but I don't. There's a line for foodies, and when I'm making my own eggrolls or puff pastry, it's time to step away from the chef's knife.

These cheese straws are a must-do for a party. They're flaky, incredibly adaptable, great with cocktails, next to a big bowl of pasta, alongside soup. You can prepare them, slice them, and twist them, then chill them and wrap them gently in aluminum foil, and freeze them for up to a month. Don't thaw them before you bake them--you may have to add a few minutes to the baking time.

Cheese Straws

1 9x9 1/2 inch sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hours or on the counter for 1 hour
2 ounces Parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated (1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Adjust oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 425. Lay the puff pastry on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle with the cheese, salt, and pepper. Top with another sheet of parchment, and, using a rolling pin, press the cheese into the dough, rolling to shape the dough into a 10-inch square.

Remove the top layer or parchment and with a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 3/4 inch wide strips. Gently twist each strip of dugh and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing the strips about 1 inch apart.

Bake until the straws are fully puffed and golden, about 10 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Other flavors: replace the cheese, salt and pepper with any of the following combinations:

4 ounces shredded cheddar
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile in adobo
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup minced walnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, well drained
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped fine
1 oz. feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano

1 tbsp. EACH minced parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup pistachios, chopped fine
1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped fine
1/4 teaspoon cardmom

1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

Monday, January 21, 2008

Meatless Main Dish Monday: Porcini Mushroom Sauce With Cream

This is an intensely-flavored and rich sauce that is great over fresh or dried fettucine, with lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese. You won't miss the meat in this at all, if missing meat is even something that people do.

Dried porcini mushrooms are widely available, and I suggest keeping a few packages in your pantry. They are wonderful rehydrated and chopped in pasta sauces or ground in a food processor and mixed into pasta dough.

Serves 4.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in 2 cups hot water, strained, and chopped coarse; soaking liquid reserved
Table salt and ground black pepper
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1. Heat butter in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until edges begin to brown, about 7 minutes. Add porcini and salt and pepper to taste; sauté to release flavors, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add soaking liquid; simmer briskly until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

3. Stir in cream; simmer until sauce just starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 20: Parmesan-Pepper Popcorn, Curry-Spiced Nuts

Every year for Christmas, inevitably, somebody gives you one of those giant tins full of stale, artificially-flavored popcorn. Hideous. It barely resembles popcorn, and yet, somehow, it ends up in a bowl at your Superbowl party, probably with the thought that somebody will eat it, and you can throw away the rest after the party.

I love popcorn. I try to watch my salt though, and I have a tendency to overdo it when it comes to popcorn, so I've started trying other flavors so that I don't wake up the next morning feeling so incredibly bloated. America's Test Kitchen has some suggestions, and my favorite is this parmesan-pepper. I don't bother with microwave popcorn, either--I can't even fathom what chemicals must be involved. I buy the regular old bag of popcorn kernels on the bottom shelf at the grocery store--they're about $1 a bag, much cheaper than anything else. I used to use my 8-quart stockpot, but we bought a microwave popcorn popper. It's just a bowl with a loose-fitting lid, but it's quicker than the big pot on the stove and it's easy to use. I think we bought it at Target, and if you like popcorn but are kind of afraid of those bags of microwave stuff, I recommend the bowl.

Same thing with the spiced nuts. Tons of salt, tons of chemicals, and even a really surprising amount of sugar. Even the recipe that I use has more sugar in it than I think it really needs, so I've cut it back from 2/3 cup to 1/4 cup. Adjust it as you like, but I like them a little less sweet.

1/2 cup of popcorn kernels will make about 4 quarts of popcorn.

Parmesan-Pepper Popcorn

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Salt to taste

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the melted butter and cook over medium heat until fragrant. Remove from heat and let stand while the popcorn pops.

Combine the oil and popcorn in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Cover and place over medium-high heat, shaking occasionally, until the first few kernels begin to pop. Continue to cook, shaking vigorously, until the popping has mostly stopped. Pour immediately into a large bowl and toss with the flavored butter. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, toss again, and add salt to taste, if needed.

Curry Spiced Nuts

1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound pecans, cashews, walnuts, or whole unblanched almonds
1/4 cup superfine sugar (if you can't find superfine sugar, run regular granulated sugar through a food processor for about 1 minute)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon paprika

Heat oven to 275. Whisk the egg white, water, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Drain in a colander for 5 minutes.

Mix together the sugar, cumin, curry, and paprika together. Toss the spices with the drained nuts. Spread the nuts evenly on two baking sheets. Bake until the nuts are dry and crisp, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven and let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Break the nuts apart and serve.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

January 19: Chips and Tomato Salsa, Guacamole, Chile Con Queso

This is, no kidding, the best salsa in the world. And let me say this about it as well: it is almost a blank canvas. The great thing about salsa is that it can embrace a thousand different ingredients. I use this salsa not just as-is, but I have added the following at different points:

  • Small-diced radishes
  • Small-diced seeded and peeled cucumber
  • Sweet corn, cut off the ear and toasted in a dry skillet
  • Canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Minced chipotle in adobo
  • Small cubes of mango
  • Grilled pineapple, diced
  • Different peppers
  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Different herbs
  • Roasted, chopped red peppers
  • Toasted pine nuts
  • Chopped oil-cured black olives

Do you see where I'm going here? Possibilities are limited only by your own imagination. This also addresses the problem of winter tomatoes. Winter tomatoes are generally inedible, hard, pale, and flavorless, but the marriage of flavors and the other ingredients coax a little breath of life into the grocery store travesties that pass as tomatoes in January.

I love that this salsa is as great on chips as it would be over a piece of broiled fish, or tossed with hot pasta and olive oil, or on a taco or nachos. And guacamole? How can anything that looks so awful taste so great? It does though, and it's full of heart-healthy fat and I can eat it by the boatload. Enough guacamole is never enough.

Let me say this about guacamole: If the avocados aren't great, if they are rock-hard and emerald-green on the outside, if they squish under light pressure, put them down and move on. Your guacamole will only serve to disappoint you.

If the avocados are unsuitable, go with the chile con queso. It sounds complicated, but it just really isn't. We were visiting family in San Diego in April, and had dinner in a Mexican restaurant in Old Town. There were little old Mexican women in costume making fresh tortillas in the storefronts, and they served an appetizer called queso fundido, which was a big crock of hot, oven-baked cheese with crumbled chorizo sausage. You scooped up gobs of it in fresh flour tortillas, wrapped it up, and tried to not let it dribble down your chin. Ohh, just the thought of it makes me miss California a little bit. It's not exactly practical for a party, since it really has to stay bubbling hot or it sort of hardens into a rubber-cement consistency, but chile con queso is a great alternative. The list of ingredients is sort of long, and make no mistake--this is spicy. But it's a crowd-pleaser.

Start here, with the salsa. If you make it ahead, wait to add the salt--everything will weep a little, and your salsa will be watery. Also, for more spicy, leave some or all of the seeds from the jalapenos in.

Tomato Salsa

1 1/2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoes , cut into 3/8-inch dice (about 3 cups)
1 large jalapeño chile, seeded, flesh minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup minced red onion
1 small clove garlic, minced (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
pinch ground black pepper
2 - 6 teaspoons lime juice from 1 to 2 limes

1. Set large colander in large bowl. Place tomatoes in colander and let drain 30 minutes. As tomatoes drain, layer jalapeño, onion, garlic, and cilantro on top. Shake colander to drain off excess tomato juice. Discard juice; wipe out bowl.
2. Transfer contents of colander to now-empty bowl. Add salt, pepper, and 2 teaspoons lime juice; toss to combine. Taste and add minced jalapeño seeds, sugar, and additional lime juice to taste.

Guacamole does not hold very well--it tends to oxidize and turn brown. Don't make it much ahead of time if you can help it, and it you can't help it, spray the top with lime juice--the acid will help to prevent browning--and place a layer of plastic wrap directly against the guacamole, pressing out as much air as you can, and cover tightly.

Make this recipe en masse, if possible--it multiplies well, and it will be popular.


2 small ripe avocados
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
1/2 small jalapeño chile, minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Table salt
1 tablespoon lime juice from 1 lime

Halve, pit, and scoop flesh from avocados into a bowl. Sprinkle lime juice over and mix lightly with fork until mashed, with a few pea-sized chunks. Add onion, garlic, chile, and cilantro. Adjust seasoning with salt, if necessary, and serve. (Can be refrigerated up to 1 day. Return guacamole to room temperature, removing plastic wrap just before serving.)

You can make the chile con queso with chorizo. Brown 1/2 pound bulk chorizo sausage in a skillet over medium heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Drain very well, and stir into the finished queso. Keep this dip warm in a fondue pot or Crock pot or a chafing dish, and stir it occasionally to keep it from separating. Serve everything with lots of tortilla chips--regular ones, blue corn tortilla chips, whole-grain, even the new flour tortilla chips, if you like.

Chile con Queso

1/2 pound fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped white onions
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cups milk or cream
2 cups grated Cheddar
1 cup grated Jack or Pepper Jack

Roast the peppers by placing them on an open gas flame, turning them frequently with tongs until all sides are charred black, about 7 to 10 minutes. Place the blackened peppers in a plastic or paper bag, and let rest until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Peel the peppers, split in half lengthwise, and discard the seeds and the stems. Roughly chop and set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cayenne. Cook, stirring, until very soft, about 6 minutes. Add the flour and stir until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chopped chilies, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the milk or cream and stir until thick, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the cheeses and cook, stirring, until melted and well incorporated. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning, to taste.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 18: Here Comes the Superbowl

And here come Superbowl parties. You can count on things like chips and dip, salsa, maybe chile con queso, chili, maybe Buffalo wings. I have been to Superbowl parties where the spread has been as predictable as Thanksgiving dinner, and sadly, I've thrown parties where the spread has been exactly this predictable. And it's not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's what you like but I like the getting-together-with-friends and the talking and the drinking of beers just really so much more than the football, which, now that I'm married to a football-indifferent guy, I no longer feel so obligated to care about as long as the Cowboys are losing.

So all I'm saying is, shake it up a little. We're not throwing a Superbowl party because we live in a condo that's just a tiny bit larger than a shoebox, and we haven't been invited to any as of yet, probably because we don't have a huge number of local friends, but if we were throwing a party, I'd position it this way: it's a party, on Superbowl Sunday, with a television and maybe even a couple of pools or some other sort of betting related to the game, with great, twist-on-a-theme food.

Here's what I would serve--maybe not all of this, depending on the crowd I was expecting, but a selection--if I were having a Superbowl party.

Asian-Spiced Chicken Wings
Four-Cheese Pizza
Pepper-Parmesan Popcorn
Deviled Eggs
Tortilla Chips with Tomato Salsa and Guacamole
Ancho-Cinnamon Sugar Cheese Straws
Blue Cheese-Walnut Cheese Straws
Curry-Spiced Nuts
Cheddar-Beer Spread
Crudites With Two Dips: Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Dip and Lemony Feta Dip
German Chocolate Brownies
Easy Apple Snack Cake

Many of these recipes have the benefit of being well-suited to being made ahead of time, frozen or stored tightly sealed, and reheated at party time. I think this is a really good thing when it comes to party food, so that you're not stuck in the kitchen as guests arrive and people start having fun.

I promise to give you all these recipes between now and the Big Game. In fact, I am guessing that these recipes will tie up much of my time in the next two weeks.

Tonight, I give you Asian-Spiced Chicken Wings and Four-Cheese Pizza.

Asian Spiced Chicken Wings


3 Pounds chicken wings, separated at the joins, wing tips discarded
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons Tabasco
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro (optional)
1 garlic clove minced
1 to 2 quarts peanut or vegetable oil (for frying)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, mirin, Tabasco, rice vinegar, ginger, cilantro, and garlic in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Heat 2 1/2 inches of oil in a large Dutch oven, with a candy thermometer attached to the side, over high heat until it measures 360 degrees.

Mix the cornstarch and cayenne together in a large bowl. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then toss evenly with the cornstarch mixture. Add half the wings to the hot oil and fry until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels and keep warm in the oven while repeating with the remaining wings.

Toss the fried wings and the soy sauce mixture together in a large bowl. Let soak for about 1 minute before serving.

Keep these warm in a chafing dish or in a Crock pot, set on low, with the cover off.

Serves 6 to 8.

Four Cheese Pizza

4 1/4 cups bread flour, plus extra for the counter
1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, warm

Pulse 4 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt in a food processor (fitted with a dough blade if possible) to combine. With the processor running, pour the oil, then the water through the feed tube and process until a rough ball forms, 30 to 40 seconds. Let the dough rest for 2 minutes, then process for 30 seconds longer.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to forma smooth, round ball, about 5 minutes, adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the counter. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured conuter, cut into three pieces, and cover with plastic wrap. Working with one piece of dough at a time, shape into a smooth, round ball, cover again with the plastic wrap, and let rest 20-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Uncover one ball of dough and stretch the dough into a 12-inch round on a piece of parchment paper. Brush the edge of the dough with oil. Sprinkle the oiled dough with shredded mozzerella, shredded provolone cheese, grated parmesan cheese, and crumbled blue cheese.

Slide the parchment paper onto a rimless or inverted rimmed baking sheet, then slide it onto a hot baking stone, if you have one--if you don't, simply slide the whole baking sheet into the oven. Bake until the cheese is golden in spots and the crust edges brown, 8-12 minutes.

Repeat with the other two pizzas. Cut, with a pizza cutter, into eight wedges each.

Serves 12.


I base most of the recipes that I slap up here on certain assumptions, and I may have been making a mistake. For the record, in the future, please assume the following unless I specifically state otherwise:
  • Butter is unsalted.
  • Eggs are large.
  • Flour is unbleached all-purpose.
  • Sugar is granulated.
  • Salt is table salt.
  • Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and greens are washed and dried before use.
  • All spices are ground.
  • Pepper is black and freshly ground.
  • Minced: 1/8 inch sized pieces or smaller.
  • Chopped fine: 1/8 to 1/4 inch sized pieces.
  • Chopped medium: 1/4 to 1/2 inch sized pieces.
  • Chopped coarse: 1/2 to 3/4 inch sized pieces.
  • Cut into chunks: 3/4 inch pieces or larger.
  • Slices: Food is cut into flat, thin pieces, the thickness of which depends on the recipe.
  • Diced: Food is cut into uniform cubes, the size of which will depend on the recipe.
  • Cut on the bias: Food is cut at an angle, the length of which will depend on the recipe.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17: Baked Orzo With Peppers And Cheese

Orzo is one of my very favorite pasta shapes. It is so versetile and so easy, great in so many applications. I've had it hot, tossed with chopped spinach and garlic and olive oil, cold with a salsa vinaigrette and grilled chicken breast, plain with butter and parmesan and sprinkled with toasted breadcrumbs.

Orzo is small, rice-shaped pasta, and it can be prepared much like rice can--toasted in oil or butter with an aromatic like onion or garlic, then simmered in liquid until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Alternately, you can throw a half-cup of orzo in a vegetable or bean soup in the last 10 minutes of cooking. Yum.

I like the looks of this recipe. It's almost like macaroni and cheese with a Mexican spin on it, and along those lines, I think it'd be a great side to something like a spice-rubbed pork tenderloin, with some sauteed apples or something on the side, or instead of rice with a green-sauced chicken enchilada. Serves 4.

Baked Orzo With Peppers And Cheese

2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
1/3 cup diced green chilies
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small bits
1 cup orzo
1 cup diced Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Add salt into boiling water, add orzo; boil 10 to 12 minutes until tender; drain. Put orzo into lightly buttered dish with peppers, chilies and Monterey Jack. Spread sour cream evenly over top, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, dot with butter. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, top shelf of oven until golden and puffy. Cool slightly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

January 16: Sauteed Shrimp

I almost never cook anything from the Food Network. Not only do I think that most of the recipes that they show are sort of like porn -- fun to watch, but nothing I'd ever do -- I find a lot of the personalities annoying and sort of insulting to people who take food seriously. Rachael Ray, for example. There is an extra-toasty corner of hell reserved just for her and her magazine and her many, many boring TV shows and her "stoup" and "Yum-Oh" and "E.V.O.O." Here's a clue, Rachael: you don't have to pretend to almost drop everything you're carrying every time you walk from the refrigerator to the pantry to the counter. We get it. Lots of stuff. Whatever.

But I like a lot of what Tyler Florence makes. Most of the time, it's straightforward, smart food for people who really want to eat straightforward, smart food and don't want a lot of fuss in the preparing of it. No long lists of obscure ingredients. No outrageous prep times.

This is a dish I have made many times in many forms. Living here on the East Coast like we do, we have access to great shrimp and everything else in the recipe are pantry staples. You can stop for shrimp on the way home and make this dish for dinner tonight. I like to make it with rice, which can cook while you make the shrimp, and whatever vegetable looks good. I like broccoli. Serves 4.

Sauteed Shrimp

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup chicken broth
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Put the flour on a plate and season with a healthy amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to combine evenly. Dredge the shrimp in the seasoned flour to coat all sides.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until butter stops foaming and just starts to turn a light brown. Add the shrimp, and give it a toss, saute for 5 minutes until the shrimp is firm and there is a crispy coating on the outside. Remove the shrimp to a side plate and cover to keep warm.

Put the pan back on the heat and add the garlic and shallots. Cook and stir for 1 minute until soft. Add the lemon juice and chicken broth, give it a stir and let it cook down for 1 minute to thicken slightly. Put the shrimp back in the pan and coat in the lemon sauce. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 15: Chicken Mole

I'm on drugs. No, seriously. My cough has gotten so bad that I have been throwing up from coughing so hard. My body hurts, from head to hips, from coughing. I am just really not enjoying all of this, and I have never felt quite this awful. But my very kind doctor was nice enough to write a prescription for Phenergan syrup with Codeine. The first I've received when I was throwing up uncontrollably, mostly while pregnant, and it is so powerful that I generally request to be given half the usual dose because it makes me so thoroughly stupid. The second is a narcotic, a painkiller, and I don't mind telling you that I am actually in quite a bit of pain here. I said that already. Oh well. I'm on drugs.

Merseydoats is truly a woman after my own heart, confessing to her addiction to dark chocolate. No worries, Mer, there are much worse addictions you could have. Between that and Kimberly's description earlier this week of Haagen Daas' Mayan Chocolate flavor ice cream has me thinking about chocolate. I love chocolate too.

I also love Mexican food, a love that drew my husband and I together. The Mexicans had the right idea: dark chocolate and peppers and cinnamon are amazing together. My immediate thought was absolutely chicken mole (mo-LAY), chicken in a dark, rich sauce with cinnamon and dark chocolate and lots of other flavors. It is rich and so complex, and so don't be intimidated by the long list of ingredients--it comes together really easily, and it just can't be beat.

This recipe comes from a cookbook that I stole from my mother when I first moved out on my own--not college, but afterwards, when I had a kitchen and began to cook for myself. The cookbook is called The Well-Filled Tortilla, and anything you would think of wrapping in a tortilla is included in there, from a simple ground beef taco to wine-simmered vegetables. Their basic chicken fajitas are my go-to recipe for a Mexican meal, This recipe, for chicken mole, takes 40-60 minutes, and serves 4-6. Serve it with corn tortillas.

Chicken Mole

4-5 pounds chicken pieces; a combination of breasts, legs, and thighs
2 dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water
18 corn tortillas

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place chicken pieces in a non-reactive baking dish. Distribute the chili strips and garlic around the chicken. Spread the tomatoes and chocolate pieces over the top of the chicken. Add the oregano, salt, and water.

Bake uncovered for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and stir the chocolate into the sauce. Bake, turning one more time, until the meat is cooked through and pulls away from the bones, about 35 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer to a platter to cool.

Separate the chicken meat; discard the skin and bones. Return the meat to the baking pan and mix into the sauce.

Spoon about 1/3 cup of chicken and sauce into the middle of a warmed tortilla. Top with the salsa of your choice and drizzle on a little sour cream if you like. Fold and serve.

Edited: Oh golly, I really am stupid. This is not the authentic Mexican mole I was thinking of. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that. The one I was thinking of was Rick Bayless' from Mexico: One Plate at a Time and contained somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 ingredients, including nuts, seeds, Mexican cinnamon, and a few other things. This recipe is much simpler and still delicious--although it lacks some of the rich complexity of Bayless' mole.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Meatless Main Dish Monday: Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Artichokes

I discovered frozen artichoke hearts a couple of years ago and I haven't looked back since. I love artichokes in general, steamed, with lots of lemon butter, and would happily eat one of those as a main course. I like them braised, I like them stuffed, I like them in dip and I like them chopped with a little spinach and wrapped in an omelet. They are my own personal Green Eggs and Ham: I do like them, Sam-I-Am.

I generally avoided recipes containing artichoke hearts for two reasons: the first was that it was such a pain to clean and prepare the hearts, with so much thrown away, that I had a hard time justifying it to myself. All that, plus then I actually had to cook something? Forget it. And canned artichokes were not an acceptable substitute: mushy, salty, tasting weirdly like the can that they emerged from, polluting an otherwise great dish.

I had heard of frozen artichoke hearts before but had never seen them in the grocery store until a few years ago. I thought I'd give them a try, so I took them home, thawed them, and used them in a spinach-artichoke orzo side dish. They tasted like the genuine article, and all it had cost me in terms of time was the time that it took to thaw them. A winner.

This is a light meal, like maybe a late Saturday lunch or something. I think it could use a little protein, but it really can stand on its own with a big salad and a crusty loaf of bread. Also, it's fast, like maybe 30 minutes, not to go all Rachael Ray on you or anything, and everything in this dish is stuff that I have in my kitchen at any given time. Serves 4-6.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Artichokes

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 garlic cloves , minced
Table salt and ground black pepper
2 (9-ounce) packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained
1 pound spaghetti
3 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Grated parmesan cheese (for serving)

1. Boil Water for Spaghetti: Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.

2. Sauté Garlic: Cook 3 tablespoons of oil, 3 tablespoons of garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 10-inch nonstick skillet over low heat, stirring often, until garlic is sticky, foamy, and straw-colored, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

3. Cook Artichokes: Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet and return to high heat until shimmering. Add artichokes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until artichokes are lightly brown and tender, about 6 minutes.

4. Cook and Drain Spaghetti: Add spaghetti and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain spaghetti and return spaghetti to pot.

5. Toss Spaghetti with Sauce: Stir parsley, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, sautéed garlic, artichokes, and 2 tablespoons reserved pasta cooking water into spaghetti. Season with remaining tablespoon raw garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. Add reserved pasta cooking water as needed to loosen sauce. Serve, passing the Parmesan separately.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

January 13: Sandwich Combinations

Well, now I'm pretty sure that I've got what Dan's got, and I feel like a sack of refried crap. It's the curse of living with a teacher--everything that his filthy little knuckleheads bring to school, he gets, and brings home, and gives to Max and I. This is my second illness since Christmas.

When you feel this bad, why cook? Make sandwiches. That's why they invented sandwiches, so you could eat something when you feel like death. The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook has a list of favorite sandwich combinations. None is complicated or fussy, and they all go so much farther than turkey and mustard on bread.

I think a few different kinds of these for a low-key lunch with friends or for an informal bridal or baby shower, along with a couple of soups and a big green salad and some kind of decadent dessert, would be great. Or maybe when you have the plague and you still need some kind of fuel to keep you moving forward. Feed a cold, or whatever.

All of the dressings, mayonnaises, and salads listed have recipes in the same cookbook. If there's one you'd like specifically, email me and I'll send you the recipe, but please believe me when I tell you that I didn't have the energy to type up all of these recipes.

Roast Beef with Boursin and Arugula
Roast beef
Boursin cheese
Thinly sliced red onion
Sourdough bread

Ham and Smoked Gouda with Sweet and Sour Pickles
Black Forest ham
Smoked gouda cheese
Sweet and Sour pickles
Whole grain mustard
Marble rye bread

Prosciutto with Goat Cheese and Radicchio
Goat cheese
Shredded radicchio
Balsalmic vinaigrette
Olive bread

Roast Turkey with Cheddar and Apple
Roast turkey
Cheddar cheese
Sliced Granny Smith apple
Mango chutney
French bread

Smoked Turkey with Havarti and Watercress
Smoked turkey
Havarti cheese
Lemon-Herb mayonnaise

Roast Turkey with Avacado and Sprouts
Roast turkey
Sliced avacado
Honey mustard
Whole wheat bread

Mozzarella with Roasted Red Peppers and Pesto
Fresh mozzerella
Roasted red peppers

Spinach and Feta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Baby spinach
Sun-dried tomatoes
Garlic mayonnaise
Pita bread

Chicken Salad with Fennel and Green Goddess Dressing
Classic chicken salad
Thinly sliced fennel
Green Goddess dressing

Peanut Butter and Apple with Honey
Peanut Butter
Sliced Granny Smith apples
Cinnamon-Raisin Bagel

Hazelnut Spread with Bananas and Toasted Walnuts
Nutella spread
Sliced bananas
Toasted walnuts
Whole grain bread

Tuna Salad with Tomato, Tapenade, and Feta
Classic tuna salad
Sliced tomato
Feta cheese
Romaine lettuce
Sandwich wrap

Egg Salad with Bacon and Radishes
Classic egg salad
crumbled bacon
Thinly sliced radishes
Bibb lettuce
Toasted challah

B.L.T. with Avacado and Chipotle Mayonnaise
Leaf Lettuce
Sliced tomato
Sliced avacado
Chipotle mayonnaise
Flour tortilla

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January 12: The World's Easiest Meatball Subs

Oh hell, Dan has the flu. He has a high fever and muscle aches and congestion and cough and general male malaise that is really making life miserable for the whole family at the moment. He is complaining that he is queasy, and yet he wants to eat everything in sight, burning all these calories as his body tries to kill him.

The easiest standby imaginable when he is sick and I need an easy, hearty dinner is these sandwiches. He loves them, and the only cooking they require is to heat the meatballs and maybe pop them under the broiler to melt the cheese. He requested these tonight, and they are so easy and he is so sick, I couldn't possibly tell him no, even though it's Saturday night, the night when I generally put a little more effort into dinner. Besides, Max is kicking my ass tonight--I'm the only one in any kind of shape to entertain him, and this little person is unusually demanding today. It's that kind of a night. Makes 4 servings.

The World's Easiest Meatball Subs

12 frozen meatballs, or about 1 pound
1 cup tomato sauce (I like Muir Glen Organic's crushed tomatoes)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1/8 tsp of crushed dried red chile
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 pound sliced provolone cheese, in four slices
4 hot dog buns

Preheat oven to 350. On a cookie sheet with a Silpat mat, or lined with foil and sprayed with nonstick spray, cook the meatballs until hot, about 20-25 minutes.

While meatballs cook, make sauce: in a small skillet or saucier, combine tomatoes, chile, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste over medium heat. Simmer 8-10 minutes.

Drain fat from meatballs. Toss in sauce. Preheat broiler.

Put three meatballs in each hot dog bun. Top with cheese. Run under broiler for 2-3 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Friday, January 11, 2008

January 11: Twice-Baked Potatoes With Broccoli and Cheese

I will admit that I put a little more effort in on Friday and Saturday nights, Saturday in particular. I would think that most people, especially most people with full-time, high-maintenence jobs, probably would. During the week, I look for dinner to take no more than an hour and a half to cook, consume, and clean up after.

On Friday or Saturday, I am more likely to put in a little time. That's why this is a Friday-or-Saturday dish--it involves baking, cooling, slicing, and hollowing out potatoes, baking the potato shells again to dry them out a little, making the filling, stuffing the shells, and baking them again. It is time-consuming and a little labor-intensive.

My mother went on this diet when I was about 21. She was excessively grouchy for about three months, because she was restricted to about 1000 calories a day, and she was doing these incredibly difficult 2-hour workouts every day. I would probably be worse than grouchy--homicidal might be more accurate--but one of the things she got to eat was a crabmeat-stuffed baked potato. It was really quite fabulous.

I like food stuffed in other food. There's something really good and sort of premeditated about it, it requires some planning ahead and doing some work. The cafeteria at my husband's school serves a stuffed baked potato with broccoli and cheese on Mondays. I think this has potential to be really great, not at all cafeteria food.

This would be a great side dish with steak or baked chicken and a salad. I like that it incorporates both a starch and a vegetable; it's like an almost-one-dish-meal. I make extra of these every time I make them, and then Dan takes them in his lunch. I really think the key to this is the filling, and I like a lot of it, so I bake an extra potato just for the insides.

Oh, speaking of potatoes, I have to tell this story about my stepfather, Tom. Tom doesn't like to cook--but he loves to eat. Tom had a small collection of recipes in a recipe file, and my mother kept the file because it is just so fricking funny. It contains things like directions for heating up Campbell's Tomato Soup in the microwave, and grilling a steak (that recipe starts with "light a fire..."). One of my very favorite recipes is his recipe for baked potatoes. The card says:

Baked Potato
Makes 1.

1 Potato

Turn the oven on to 400.
Stab the potato with a fork.
Put it in the oven until it's done (1 hour).

I have to admit that this recipe is perfectly serviceable. Even better than that, it sounds like an opera written by my stepfather.

Slightly further down this road is this dish. I make it out of my head, basically, without really using a recipe, but I'll try. Make extra, they reheat well. Serves 4 generously.

Twice-Baked Potatoes With Broccoli and Cheddar
5 All-Purpose potatoes, scrubbed, and pierced all over with a fork
1 package Boursin shallot and chive cheese, or other flavored cheese spread
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup broccoli, cut into small bites, steamed until tender-crisp, and cooled, or 1 cup chopped frozen broccoli, thawed
1 1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/8 tsp. freshly ground coarse black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Put potatoes straight onto oven racks and bake until very slightly undercooked, about 50 minutes. Let the potatoes cool slightly, about fifteen minutes.

Cut the potatoes in half horizontally. (note: Potatoes have a slightly flatter side. Cut parallel to that flatter side, your final product will lay flatter as it's filled and baked.) With a spoon, carefully hollow out each potato half, leaving a 1/4 inch thick potato shell. Put eight of the shells onto a sheet pan and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until slightly dried out and browned. Discard the last two shells, or save for potato skins or some other use.

Prepare the filling--combine the Boursin, sour cream, butter, and broccoli in a mixing bowl. Use a potato ricer, if you have one, on the potato flesh and add to the Boursin mixture, mixing together. Fold 1 cup of the cheddar into the mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each potato shell with a heaping amount of filling. Place back on sheet pan. Sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of cheese over potatoes and slide back into the oven until filling is hot and browning slightly, 15-20 minutes. Serve.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January 10: The World's Greatest Sandwich

There is an episode of "Friends" where the characters compete against each other in a Trivial Pursuit-style game of who-knows-each-other-best. The questions were organized into categories: fears and pet peeves, likes and dislikes, etc.

One of the questions that Rachel answers in the lightning round: What is Joey's favorite food?

The answer: sandwiches.

Hell yeah. I love sandwiches too. It must be all those years in private school, where they didn't have a cafeteria to get me hooked on square pizzas and fish sticks. What's not to love? as Joey would say: Bread--good. Meat--good. Cheese--goooood.

I said I'd write about this when I first started this blog: The World's Greatest Sandwich. This is not for the faint of heart, or the high-of-cholesterol. It is basically a BLT with cheese and a fried egg. Adam Sandler's character in the movie "Spanglish" is a chef, and he comes home late from work one night and makes this sandwich, and it is the exact kind of thing a chef would make in the middle of the night after a long night in a hot kitchen.

This is a 1000-calorie sandwich, no lie. Only a guy would conceive this sandwich, and a guy did: Thomas Keller, chef of Napa Valley's French Laundry, arguably one of the greatest restaurants anywhere in the world, invented it for the movie's creator, James L. Brooks, whose script includes a notation that his culinary hero would have to create a snack for the character which people would emulate and copy.

This is worth copying, if you decide you can spare the calories. This is a decadent and spectacular sandwich. If you love someone and they have something you want, make this sandwich, split it with them, and when they are feeling full of good things and grateful to you, ask them for it. I found it in Apartment Therapy's archives.

Makes one.

World's Greatest Sandwich
3-4 slices of bacon
2 slices of Monterey Jack cheese
2 slices of toasted rustic country loaf (pain de campagne)
1 tbsp of mayo
4 tomato slices
2 leaves of butter lettuce (yes, it's called butter lettuce)
1 teaspoon butter
1 egg

1. Cook the bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels
2. Place slices of cheese on one side of toasted bread. Place in toaster oven or under broiler to melt.
3. Spread mayo on other slice of bread top with bacon, sliced tomato, and lettuce
4. On non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Fry egg, turning over briefly when the bottom is set (keep yolk runny)
5. Slide finished egg on top of lettuce, top with other slice of bread (cheese-side down, genius)
6. Place sandwich on plate and slice in half, letting yolk run down sandwich.

Restaurant Review: Shane's Rib Shack

Dan and I don't go out to eat that much anymore, mostly because Max is at a stage of his development where his behavior in public can best be compared to a rabid ape of some kind. There is screaming and chest-thumping, and throwing of food, and refusals to act in a manner befitting anything other than a two-and-a-half year old, which makes sense as he is, indeed, two and a half.

But we live around the corner from a shopping center with a few chain restaurants: an Applebee's and a Three Brothers and a California Tortilla. It's painless to take Max to most of those places; there are things he will eat readily, they are family-friendly and casual, if a little boring. Also: Dear California Tortilla: there is no such thing as a chicken caesar salad burrito. Stop it. Love, Molly.

There is also a place called Shane's Rib Shack., which if you don't know about, you should, had a deal and I was curious. My husband and I got married primarily because I found a place to hold our reception where he could have barbecued ribs with a side of fettucine alfredo, so I knew he'd go for it. I'm exercising a small amount of hyperbole about why we got married, but he did go around for months before our wedding saying, "I'm having barbecued ribs at my wedding reception! Oh, and I'm getting married."

Okay, I have to backtrack slightly to Go to this website. Go on, I'll wait. Just come back when you're done.

Back? Great. How awesome was that? $10 for a $25 gift certificate, or less, to a restaurant in your very own zip code. I got the Shane's one for $6. They run these sales--sign up with them, they'll send you deals all the time in your email.

Dan and I tried it a few weekends ago and were very pleasantly surprised. I am kind of fussy about barbecue--I don't want a puddle of sticky sauce, and I want meat that's meat, not a big tangle of chopped fat. I like barbecue to be smoky and tender, but with texture. I want it to still taste like pork, or beef, or chicken. And I live in Prince George's County, Maryland: this is soul food central. I've had some wretched barbecue since we moved here.

Dan ordered the small sampler platter: 1/3 rack of pork ribs, 1/4 pound of chopped pork, and 2 chicken fingers. Chicken fingers? Hardly authentic for a barbecue joint. It came with two sides, and Dan asked for macaroni and cheese and greens.

Being a little cautious about barbecue, I ordered the chicken fingers with mac and cheese and cole slaw. Max had a kids' meal with chicken fingers and fries. The staff was friendly and easy-going, knowledgeable about their products, and worked with a sense of urgency, something we always appreciate with a toddler to feed.

You order at the register, pay, and take a seat at surprisingly comfortable booths. There was medium-loud but very good music playing (Jack Johnson, Van Morrison) and wide-screen TV's with college basketball. The staff brought out our food: plastic baskets lined with paper, styrofoam dishes of sides, plastic squeeze bottles of sauce.

The chicken fingers were big strips of whole breast meat, tender and perfectly cooked, not over-breaded. The breading tasted a little floury, but was well-seasoned (read: not too salty) and they tasted like chicken, not binder or chemicals. Gorgeous, really, some of the best I've ever had. Chickien fingers for grown-ups.

Dan's chopped pork was wonderful--smoky, really lean and without a hunk of fat or gristle to be found, well-seasoned. It was served without sauce, but like I mentioned, there's plenty on the side. His ribs were masterfully made: perfectly tender, toothsome, delecately smoky and seasoned, with just a little crust on the outside from the grill. Wonderful.

And the sides: the greens were some of the best I've ever had, a little sweet, a little tart, not skunky or boiled to a fair-thee-well. The mac and cheese was creamy and rich without being overly so, with perfectly-cooked al dente pasta. And the cole slaw was great--not too sweet, not too mayonaise-y. They were beautiful complements to delicious centerpieces.

Tonight we ordered chopped pork and chopped chicken, and split them both. Dan ordered Brunswick stew as a side, as well as the greens, and I stuck with the mac and cheese and cole slaw. The Brunswick stew is a tomato-based mix with corn, pork, green pepper, and some other things I couldn't immediately identify--in this case, spicy and rich, really big flavor. Dan traded me for my mac and cheese; he hadn't realized that the dish had green peppers, which upset his stomach. The pork was as good as it had been the first time. The chicken was even better: lean, juicy, deeply smoky, tender, and perfecly prepared, piled in a bowl with Texas toast on the side, unsauced, like the pork. There wasn't a bit of skin or bone or sinew to be found. Passing my plate back to Dan after I'd eaten half was rough, I tell you.

Two visits to Shane's, two two-thumbs-up. We're thrilled to have Shane's in our neighborhood. I can see it becoming a serious addiction.

The details:
Shane's Rib Shack
13600 Baltimore Avenue (Route 1)
Corner of Route 1 and Contee Road
Hours: Mon - Sun 11 AM - 10 PM
Phone: 301-725-2020
Take-out and catering available
Other locations: Nationwide

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 9: Cornbread Casserole

So far one of the biggest benefits to this blog seems to be that, because of it, I always know what the date is. That is not generally something I know.

My real, paying gig is for a person (who shall remain nameless) who runs a non-profit agency (which, also, shall remain nameless, although I'm sure most of you already know who I work for or could find out without much trouble, but I'm not looking to be fired). This person works 20-hour days, seven days a week, and is always slightly dismayed to discover that her exceptionally loyal, extraordinarily talented staff does not. Nevertheless, I, as well as many of my colleagues, regularly find myself working until 6 p.m. or later.

I have a very small child, and a husband who is a teacher and eats lunch at 11:10 A.M. When I get home, we are all very hungry, and nobody, myself included, has the patience to sit around and wait while I lovingly prepare a four-course meal.

This is my confession: during the week, in spite of all these monumentally slow meals I keep posting recipes for, I rely rather heavily on what can be prepared quickly and easily. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts sliced, seasoned with minced garlic and salt and pepper, sauteed, and tossed with canned tomato sauce, a splash of red wine, and a handful of dried herbs and parmesan cheese and served over pasta is a big hit lately, as is--oh, I am really embarassed here--chili dogs and cole slaw. What can I say? The chili, at least, is homemade, as is the coleslaw.

I haven't tried this recipe, but it's made with things I have around, and according to MSN Lifestyle, where I found it, it takes five minutes to prep and an hour to bake. It's barely cooking, really just mixing and sticking in the oven, but it's better than fast food, I think. You've got an hour, right? I've got an hour. I will try it, probably with a bowl of chili, and I will probably make some attempt at livening it up a bit--maybe some minced onion, maybe some cheese. If you make this, please let me know how it went.

A word about sodium: this has a lot, as well as being high in fat and cholesterol, although there's a little fiber in this and it sounds like a little probably goes a long way. Sodium is one of those things I try to watch because my blood pressure has been up the last few times I've been to the doctor, and I don't want it to complicate my already relatively complicated medical issues. Unsalted butter, no-salt-added canned corn, and, if they make it, no-salt-added creamed corn, could help. So could conserving a little ahead of time when you know you're going to be making this dish. All things in moderation, people, including moderation.

Serves 6.

Cornbread Casserole

1/4 pound butter, melted
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn
1 (15 ounce) can creamed corn
1 (8.5 ounce) package corn bread mix
1 ounce sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, whole corn, cream corn, corn muffin mix and sour cream. Fold all ingredients together, pour into 2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour.

January 25: Edited: We tried this last night. I stirred in a little hot sauce as well as a handful of shredded cheddar cheese. OH MY GOD, kids, this tastes amazing. It is unbelievably good. It is also incredibly fattening. I could practically feel myself getting fatter as I ate. It was a surprisingly bad feeling, one that really almost overwhelmed my enjoyment of this incredibly decadent side dish. I ate a very modest serving of it, as well as a smallish baked chicken cutlet with panko and a whole lot of salad. Nevertheless, there is more in my refrigerator, and by God, I may wake up at 2 a.m. and have a spoonful of it, straight from the plastic storageware. It will probably approximate the feeling I get when eating Betty Crocker Frosting straight from the container with a spoon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

January 8: Mushroom Risotto

I struggle with rice a little bit. First of all, I never liked it much until I was in high school. It looked like -- and I apologize in advance for this image -- maggots to me. My mother never made a lot of rice, and when she did, it was Rice a Roni. Hello salt.

I've become a convert, although I still struggle a little bit. I have very little self control, and not lifting the lid to poke at the rice while it's cooking is like torture for me. Torture. And I tend to get distracted and forget about it at some crucial point in the cooking, which means that it burns or gets stuck to the inside of my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Why no one has ever tried using overcooked rice as some kind of industrial glue, I will never understand. And I don't make enough rice, for mostly the two reasons mentioned above, to warrant the use of a rice cooker. I am a little persnicketty (you can't imagine how much I've wanted to use the word persnicketty) about kitchen things that only do one thing. An avacado slicer? Already got one. It's called a knife. It doubles as an apple slicer, a chicken slicer, and a slicer of...well, pretty much everything.

The answer, of course, is risotto. Risotto has to be stirred pretty much constantly, and you eliminate the burning/sticking problem and also my lifting-the-lid problem. Risotto is also almost endlessly flexible. I've made a spinach-feta risotto for my mother's birthday dinner, a risotto with pancetta and peas, and even a cheddar-cheese-and-ham risotto with cauliflower for my son, who is 2 1/2, who liked it so much more than I thought he would, as did I--it was a little gooey, a little rich, and I didn't feel guilty, like I would have feeding him Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

This is a fairly basic recipe, yet again from Cook's Illustrated. It's a great fall dish with some kind of braised meaty thing, like short ribs. Risotto is traditional with osso buco, although this may not be the thing to go with it--a lot of competing flavors on one plate. I couldn't find the article when I was looking last night, but I have a memory of Fine Cooking doing an article on risotto and breaking it down into different mix-and-match categories to choose from: aromatics, proteins, vegetables, cheese, herbs, and liquids. I like a nice simple risotto with just onion and garlic, a little parmesan, and some fresh chopped parsley. Risotto can stand alone, or it can be the star of a plate. This one is particularly flexible. Serves 6-8.

Mushroom Risotto

2 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms , rinsed in mesh strainer under running water
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 pounds cremini mushrooms , wiped clean with a paper towel, stems discarded, and caps cut into fourths if small or sixths if medium or large
2 medium onions, chopped fine (2 cups)
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 pound Arborio rice (2 1/8 cups)
1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper

Tie together bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and parsley sprigs with kitchen twine. Bring bundled herbs, porcini mushrooms, chicken broth, soy sauce, and 3 1/2 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce to medium-low and simmer until dried mushrooms are softened and fully hydrated, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard herb bundle and strain broth through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl (you should have about 6 1/2 cups strained liquid); return liquid to saucepan and keep warm over low heat. Finely mince porcini and set aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add cremini mushrooms, 1 cup onions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until moisture released by mushrooms evaporates and mushrooms are well browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute, then transfer mushrooms to oven-safe bowl and keep warm in oven. Off heat, add 1/4 cup water to now-empty skillet and scrape with wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits; pour liquid from skillet into saucepan with broth.

Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add remaining 1 cup onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent, about 9 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until grains’ edges are transparent, about 4 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until rice absorbs wine. Add minced porcini and 3 1/2 cups broth and cook, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes, until liquid is absorbed, 9 to 11 minutes. Stir in additional 1/2 cup broth every 2 to 3 minutes until rice is cooked through but grains are still somewhat firm at center, 10 to 12 minutes (rice may not require all of broth). Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, then stir in mushrooms (and any accumulated juices), Parmesan, and chopped parsley. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; serve immediately in warmed bowls.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Meatless Main Dish Monday: Pizza Margherita

My best friend is a vegetarian, although I'm not sure you can call it that. She had beef stew for dinner last night, and the last time we visited her in Kentucky, her husband fed us all burgers from the grill. I'm not sure what to call her: a carnivore in training? A whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like-eating-atarian?

Oh well. I come here to feed Kimberly, not to poke her. We were talking the other about how many "vegetarian" entrees are nothing but side dishes, and how at family gatherings she subsists on corn on the cob and bread. There are wonderful vegetarian main dishes out there, many of them coming from cultures where poor people make delicious food with what they have access to. Just ask the Italians or the Mexicans.

So, I pledge to you, my three-or-four readers, meat-free Mondays, and real food, not a side dish that you just eat more of.

I like pizza. I mean, I like making it, not ordering it--although there's something to be said for that as well. But I have a bread machine, a food processor, and a stand mixer, all of which have the capability of making up pizza dough with a minimum of effort on my part. There's a grocery store around the corner. I have an oven. Nothing's stopping me from making it myself. It's as healthy as you want it to be, or not. You can pretty much do whatever you want with it. In the summer, I love to make it on the grill. Invite friends over and they can make their own from a variety of toppings that you prepare. Serve it at a casual cocktail party as part of a small buffet of highly portable nibbles, or to your kids and their friends for a birthday party or sleepover.

This is a classic, named after an Italian queen. The authentic version of this involves an 800-degree oven, two days of proofing dough, and a pizza expert. It's really "just" plain old cheese pizza. Just? People are still eating it, like, a thousand years later is all I'm saying.

Oh, and: I don't use a pizza stone. They're heavy, impossible to clean, and eat up cupboard space. I know, it's sacrelige. Oh well. If you have one, use it. If you don't, a pizza pan or a sheet pan will be just fine. My pizza pans have a perforated bottom. It encourages browning.

From Cook's Illustrated again. Makes 2 12-inch pizzas.

Pizza Margherita
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup water, room temperature
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface and peel
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons sugar

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Table salt
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, patted dry if packed in brine, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. In liquid measuring cup, whisk yeast into water to dissolve. In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly add liquid through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If after 1 minute dough is sticky and clings to blade, add 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and continue processing. If dough appears dry and crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and process until dough forms ball.) Divide dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls (see photo 1, below). Place on floured counter or baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

2. FOR THE TOPPING: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three 1-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids. Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic (if using), 1 tablespoon basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl.

3. TO SHAPE AND COOK THE PIZZAS: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer balls to well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk (photo 2). Using flattened palms, gently stretch disk into 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving disk quarter turns (photos 3 and 4). Lightly flour pizza peel; lift edges of dough round to brush off any excess flour, then transfer dough to peel. Spread thin layer of tomato topping (about 1/2 cup) over dough with rubber spatula, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Slide onto stone and bake until crust begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove pizza from oven with peel, close oven door, and top pizza with half of cheese chunks, spaced evenly apart. Return pizza to stone and continue cooking until cheese is just melted, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to cutting board; sprinkle with half of remaining basil, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and pinch salt. Slice and serve immediately. Repeat step 3 to shape, top, and bake second pizza.