Archive | December, 2010

Creamy (Chicken) Sausage Pasta & Parsnip French Fries & Super Easy Marinated Mixed Meat Kabobs

29 Dec

Stephen and I have been listening to each others’ stomachs rumble and roar outrageously for the last few weeks. And this time, it’s not because we’re smelling something delicious roasting in the oven or stewing on the range. It’s because we’ve turned into shameless piggies, grabbing, growling and shoving every edible goody that comes our way into our waiting, gaping maws. In addition to the massive munchfest, we’ve also been guzzling as many bubbling flutes of Champers and sweet, overflowing mugs of Tawny that are passed our way.

Unfortunately, neither of our constitutions are rugged enough to withstand the bacon and whiskey deluge with which we’ve been flooding our gullets. Time for temperance? Yes. With a dose of Underberg. One night several months ago, Stephen and I hit the peerlessly piggie and delicious Prime Meats; the bartender insisted on preparing us for our repast with a shot of Underberg, a German digestif bitter concocted from a secret recipe of herbs and matured for months in barrels made from Slovenian oak. Despite the copious amounts landjager, cervelat, roasted beef bone marrow, surkrut garnie, beef sauerbraten and cheese and herb spatzle we supped on, we felt glorious afterward — as if we’d consumed a prim little salad with grilled chicken, followed by a brisk walk.

As time passed and indigestion (after far less gluttonous meals) flared, we wondered what miracles the Franks wrought in their kitchen that prevented us from feeling the effects. And then we remembered the Underberg. I picked up a three-pack at Kalustyan’s and we experimented. It seems a single draught before a disgusting meal is all one needs to ward off the evil tummy voodoo.

We ordered a case.

We’re also trying to take our culinary hijinks down a notch. To that end, we are attempting to eat more low-fat protein and vegetables. But we don’t like eating prim little salads with grilled chicken and taking brisk walks around the neighborhood. Instead, we’re trying to find a happy medium between deep-fried trotters and steamed broccoli. This week, we ate Creamy (Chicken) Sausage Pasta, Parsnip French Fries and Super Easy Marinated Mixed Meat Kabobs.

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Dairy-Free Bolognese & His and Hers Rustic Pear Tart

20 Dec

Food allergies are the worst.

I have countless friends who refuse to eat foods because their palates are aggregationally challenged and / or suffer from an externally imposed dearth of cultivation.

Beets and mushrooms are the most common patsies of this supremely inexcusable plague of culinary complacency.

Then I have my spattering of friends and families with various morally, ethically, religiously and / or politically motivated dietary restrictions. Pork and veal are out for at least 90% of my friends, for reasons ranging from the obvious (they’re kosher), to the head-scratchingly obscure (concerns about the quality of well water fed to humanely raised pigs in the state of New York).

Because I’m a member of the motley crew of plaintive, selective whackos (I try to consume only organically, humanely and locally raised meat and dairy products, but make exceptions when politeness or extreme logistical concerns demand it) mentioned above, I find intellectual and spiritual bars to consumption much more acceptable than priggish reticence.

Food allergies are a completely separate and terrifying bag. So many more people seem to be suffering from them — I can’t go to an event without strictly warning colleagues about at least one guest’s potentially deadly allergy to nuts/dairy/shellfish/wheat. It’s nerve-wracking to contend with restrictions in a professional kitchen — but when I make food at home, it’s even scarier.

Stephen and I love nothing more than gathering together people we love and breaking bread and popping numerous corks with them. One of his best friends from high school, Brian, and his fabulous wife, Brandee, are two of our favorites. They came over this past weekend with their gorgeous, incredibly bright two-year-old son, Graham. Among his innumerable wonderful personality quirks, he calls me the Other Uncle Pudding (long story), tells Stephen he’s a knucklehead, puts up with our crazy dog Penelope who seems to think he’s a delicious lollipop and dances on request; his sparkling, joyful presence could do nothing but inspire joie de vivre and contentment in everyone around him.

Exulting, twee, flitty glee!

Graham, dear thing, is also allergic to dairy.

Dismay, trepidation, distress!

The mutually exclusive notions of excitement at their impending arrival and horror at the idea of whipping up a butter and cream-free spread did battle in my addled little mind. Le beurre be damned, excitement won!

I ended up keeping it simple: a basic salad, shrimp cocktail, a simple loaf of bread, a few meringues for dessert. My only concern was the entree. I finally settled on a bolognese, eliminating the cream and offering cheese on the side. Wah-lah! Nothing fancy — a few easy crowd-pleasers — we were more focused on watching Graham, making sure Penny didn’t bite into her new lollipop, catching up with each other. The food was just there for the grazing.

The next day, I made a rustic pear tart and was thrilled with the results. I cut into it just as Stephen tuned into the Eagles game — I was thrilled with the results. It was relatively healthy, but buttery, flaky, tangy and sweet. (Not to mention gorgeous — when my camera is fixed I’ll start posting photos.)

I expected a fount of praise from Stephen, but he remained mum. When I questioned him, his response was highly unsatisfactory. “It doesn’t taste like anything. It’s a non-event.” Suppressing the urge to slap, kick and punch him, I stalked off to our bedroom to read “Laughter in the Dark” by Nabakov, and recline in sulking, fuming glory. Four hours later, when the Eagles won and the screams of joy in the living room subsided, he came in to see what I’d been up to. Still pouting, I informed him of my extreme displeasure. Luckily, in the four hours of reflection, napping and reading time the game had awarded me, I’d decided that the Pear Tart Defeat could be turned on its head with the addition of a few simple ingredients.

Below, check out my recipe for a Diary-Free Bolognese and His and Hers Rustic Pear Tart.

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Thai Chicken Salad & Slow-Cooker Aromatic Risotto & Root It Out Roast

13 Dec

The slow-cooker was my most breathlessly anticipated and has been my most woefully crushing culinary purchase on record.

I bought it about five years ago after hearing how deliciously complex and flavorful everything from basic Mexican black beans to beef bourguignon to cardamom rice pudding turned out to be after six hours in the cooker and a few nominal peaks-n-stirs.

(NB: I never actually sampled the goods; at that point, I still assumed that one man’s luscious, tender and delicious coq au vin was another man’s luscious, tender and delicious coq au vin. Those were innocent times: I also assumed that people who ate Hamburger Helper and Big Macs were doing so out of convenience and due to grim economic constraints, not because, well … they actually like the way they taste.)

The DIY back to basics, 1950’s laboratory, vaguely Midwestern ethos of the contraption also appealed.

Then I purchased edible items to put in the pot, followed recipes explaining how said edible items should be mixed together, turned the pot on, waited for the prescribed amount of time for said items to be done, opened the pot, did an excited jumpy jig and then sampled the wares.

Quelle horreur!

A veritable parade of hideously bland pap emerged from the slow cooker’s dark and ominous maw, despite my most earnest efforts — after five or six tries, I felt no ingredients could leave that oven’s black hole unsullied. Not only were flavors invariably as flat and uninspired as a baking powder pancake, starches became gluey, proteins became sodden, stringy and/or sloppy and vegetables turned into wet chunks of baby food.

I quickly relegated the slow cooker to the back of the culinary bus, along with a rusting cocktail shaker and a half-melted egg timer. But the other day, as bent down to pick up my beloved, always trusty Le Creuset French oven, my gaze was arrested by the sad, slow cooker. I decided there had to be a way to adjust one of my tried and true pain-in-the-ass recipes for the slow cooker — I hate wasting storage space and I couldn’t stand the notion that I was just a tweak or two away from a simple, but tasty dish sans the effort.

I also finally finished reading the New Yorker’s annual food issue, and after reading Jane Kramer’s love letter to root vegetables, “Down Under,” I was inspired to create a little roast of my favorite root vegetables. It seems that preparing root vegetables, a hardy survival food since time immemorial (beloved as much for its bomb of calorie-dense energy, its storability, versatility and cheapness), is an exercise in nostalgia for a lot of people.

The scent of starchy vegetables cooking in oil and honey with a bit of cumin, coriander, cardamom and turmeric always makes me feel Hallmark-y, warm and taken care of. Like slipping my ungloved hand into my  husband’s coat pocket on a blustery December day while munching on roasted chestnuts and sipping hot chocolate (this has never actually happened, but I’m quite sure it would be lovely).

In addition to cooking roots, I love shopping for them — it’s always a hilariously phallic experience. It’s quite difficult to poke around bins examining and prodding long, pale daikon radishes, small and squat taro roots and bulbous sweet potatoes without feeling a bit perverse and giggly. Or perhaps that’s just me.

To distract myself from an unsophisticated urge to text photos of people suggestively smelling the daikons, I wandered into Kam Sen‘s fabulous noodle aisle and decided to round out the week’s cooking with a nice bowl of Thai-inspired Chicken Noodle Salad.

Recipes for the week: Thai Chicken Salad with Brown Rice Noodles, Slow Cooker Aromatic Risotto and Root It Out Roast.

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Drunk and Wild Mushroom Gratin & French Lentil Salad & Seriously Nutty Pasta

6 Dec

Between Thanksgiving and New Years I feel like I’m trapped on a vertigo-inducing, queasy, inspiring, whiplash-tastic roller coaster ride set against a mind-bending array of grim and delightful emotional and physical landscapes. Time and money burst through my grasping fingers like a  Biblical flood busting through the banks of a forgotten little holler; I could no sooner stop their flight than Noah could stop the flood.

The only thing I can do is hang on for the ride, try to not let exhaustion and penury completely stampede over my croaking carcass and wait for 2011. In the meantime, I’m trying to throw together meals for the week quickly, prioritizing speed, efficiency and nutritional potency. Because of course in addition to working 25/8 and attempting to not completely alienate all of my friends by failing to show up at absolutely everything I’m invited to, I have contracted a rather nasty cold.

Food, instead of a pleasure to linger over and muse about, has become a fuel that (I hope) will power me through one rugged ordeal after another — and on bad days, a sugar-and-lard-studded crutch upon which I can lean, crash, burn and collapse.

Dining isn’t an option, but noshing is a necessity. This Sunday, I threw together protein-packed, nutrient dense meals that are easy and fast to make, as delicious as go-go food can be and a snap to transport. Behold, Drunk and Wild Mushroom Gratin; French Lentil Salad; Seriously Nutty Pasta.

Drunk and Wild Mushroom Gratin

Makes 9 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds peeled red potatoes, sliced to 1/8 of an inch thickness on a mandoline and kept in acidulated water to prevent browning (just squeeze in a bit of lemon or add a tablespoon or so of apple cider to a big pot of water)
  • 1 3/4 oz dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in 1 1/2 cup hot water and 1/4 cup fruity white wine, like a sauternes; after 20 minutes, remove mushrooms, roughly chop; strain mushroom liquor through cheesecloth or paper towel-lined fine sieve and set aside
  • 4 TBSP butter, separated
  • 1/4 cup wine (in addition to wine used to reconstitute mushrooms)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, plus more for drizzling to taste
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees; spray glass baking dish (approximately 14 x 9 x 2 inches) with vegetable oil and set aside
  • Sautee mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until fragrant and golden in spots. Add salt and pepper, wine, cook until liquid has evaporated. Turn heat to medium, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn heat to low and add cream, cooking until sauce thickens a bit, a few minutes. Turn heat off.
  • Drain and dry potatoes, layer on bottom of baking dish, add salt, layer of mushrooms, plus a little extra cream if you like. Add plenty of salt and a bit of pepper. Add potatoes and keep layering mushrooms and potatoes, ending with potatoes. Drizzle with truffle oil, dot with 2 TBSP butter, sprinkle with salt and a few grinds of pepper and bake until potatoes are golden and crispy. Don’t be alarmed if top layer curls and crisps — the top layer tastes a bit like a scalloped potato & potato chip love child. Underneath, its a creamy, delicate cave of umami wonder waiting to be discovered.

French Lentil Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups French lentils
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 12 or so sprigs Italian parsley, separated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cloves garlic, separated
  • 2 large carrots, diced very fine
  • 1 medium red onion, diced very fine
  • 2 large celery ribs, diced very fine
  • 1 1/8 oz goat cheese, crumbled
  • 2 TBSP olive oil, more to taste (I like extremely acidic vinaigrettes)
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp apple vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • Rinse lentils in a few changes of cold water. Cover with water in a large saucepan, add salt, 4 cloves of unpeeled garlic, 6 sprigs of parsley, one bay leaf and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.
  • Cook lentils for 10 minutes. Add vegetables and simmer for another 10 until tender. Add a bit of water as needed to prevent sticking (little water should be left at end).
  • When cooked, discard herbs and garlic.
  • Make vinaigrette by whisking mustard, vinegars, minced clove of garlic, salt and pepper and slowly drizzling in olive oil. Toss with lentils and serve with remaining sprigs of parsley, minced and crumbled goat cheese. In an unhurried and idyllic world, you have time to let all of the flavors marry in fridge for a few hours before gobbling it down and charging ahead. Just saying.

Seriously Nutty Pasta

Makes 6 big servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 thick slice Challah bread
  • 1 cup milk (I used 2%)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted in a 300 degree oven until fragrant and slightly darker (about 10 minutes)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan and sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 2 TBSP minced parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, give or take
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 12 ounces pasta

Method:

  • Cook pasta according to directions on label, salting water aggressively. Drain and set aside, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid.
  • Put toasted nuts, minced garlic, cheese, parsley in food processor and pulse to combine. Add enough oil to make a thick paste. Add bread and milk, salt and pepper and pulse to mix.
  • Toss pasta with sauce. If it’s gummy, loosen it up with a bit of pasta cooking water. Top with a bit of butter, a nice drizzle of oil or cheese to taste.

Nutritional breakdown for Drunk and Wild Mushroom and Potato Gratin: 145 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving. High in saturated fat, but also a great source of fiber. Interestingly, the process of drying certain mushrooms, including shiitake mushrooms, actually increases their nutritional profiles.  Levels of Vitamin D, iron, Vitamin C, protein and fiber, Vitamin B, plus minerals like copper, selenium, zinc become significantly higher. Important biochemicals like eritadenine, L-ergothioneine and lentinan, which combat cholesterol, work as antioxidants and help the immune system are also more potent in dried shrooms.

Nutritional breakdown for French Lentil Salad: 290 calories and 6.5 grams of fat per serving. Lentils are one of the cheapest sources of protein on the planet; they’re also full of essential amino acids (all but two, methionine and cystine), plus fiber, folate and the letter Vitamins. This dish is also an excellent source of iron and antioxidants.

Nutritional breakdown for Seriously Nutty Pasta: 450 calories and 21 grams of fat per serving. High in unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, iron, calcium.

Cost breakdown of Drunk and Wild Mushroom and Potato Gratin: $7, or per $1.20 per serving. (I had wine, butter and spices on hand).

Cost breakdown of French Lentil Salad: $8 or $1.33 per serving. (I had olive oil, vinegars, mustard and spices on hand).

Cost breakdown of Seriously Nutty Pasta: $0. (I had everything on hand).

The Verdict / In the future: All of the dishes were perfect on-the-go packages that could be eaten standing on one foot while kicking an elf and blowing your nose. However, their ability to power us through several hours of hopping, elf abuse and nasal-drip management, in addition to their degree of deterioration in storage, varies considerably. Stephen and I were both surprised by how hearty and filling the gratin felt while we were eating it, in inverse proportion to the relatively light load of calories and fat that it carried. But two hours later, we were hungry. It was as delicious as scalloped potatoes, but felt as virtuous as baked; like most meals based on simple carbs though, we were hungry a few hours later. The gratin is great for a quick fix when you crave  a bit of indulgence.

The French lentils packed quite a few calories in just a little handful — but a small bowl kept us going for hours (thank you complex carbs and unsaturated fats!) Also, they tasted better as the week went on and the lentils soaked up all of the flavors of the vinaigrette and got into a nice, palate-pleasing groove with the sweet and fibrous veggies. This dish will gird you for a physically exhausting day.

The pasta dish was totally random — I came up with the recipe because I wanted to use up some leftover pecans and Challah bread, and I grabbed a few other items and went with it. With a few tweaks (cream and not milk and less of it, more cheese, more parsley, maybe some bread crumbs sprinkled on top for extra texture, some minced sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil would be gorgeous and tasty), it’s a keeper — but the texture gets gummy as the week wears on. I would definitely recommend thinning it out with a bit of hot water when you go for seconds and thirds later in the week. Like the lentils though, the nuts keep your energy up — especially if you use a whole wheat pasta as the base.