Archive | May, 2011

Chop’d: Dad’s Pork Chops, Except Better & Pork Belly Pilaf

30 May

Dad-approved dinner

I have been a mouth breather for the past week. My ears feel like they have been stuffed with large wads of cotton covered in porcupine quills. My eyes are red and dry. My lips, they’re chapped.

I’m sweating.

My nose resembles a giant, melting glacier, reflecting the setting orange-red sun.

I have a summer cold and it blows — despite my most earnest efforts to defeat it with lashings of sriracha sauce, pints of kombucha, hot toddies and garlic, it has roared into my life during the most inauspicious of times. I’ve been freelancing up a storm, my good friend Jess was visiting from California and my good friend Mandy was in town for a too-rare visit from Boston. Sadly, I had to pop DayQuil and retreat to bed, far from all of the fun.

Stephen and I spent much of the weekend staring mutely at each other across piles of crumpled tissues, half-heartedly arguing over the remote and wondering where, how and why everything went so terribly awry.

But I did find time to whip up an old, homey favorite: pork chops! My dad reminded me of the dish a few days ago. We were both on the phone catching up and gossiping while we made dinner and exchanged recipes, as we often do.

He told me he was making chops and when I said I hadn’t had pork chops in at least five years, he became as alarmed as he would if I informed him that I was trying out for “American Idol” or becoming a vegan.

I sensed immediately that he thought I was slowly inching in the veg  direction when he began to pepper me with wild questions to which he clearly knew the answer:

“Do you still eat bacon?”

“What about hamburgers?”

“Why do buy all of your meat at farmer’s markets and Whole Foods? Do they even sell pork chops at farmer’s markets?”

“Does Stephen know about this? What does he say?”

“Will you promise me that you will never become a Communist or vote for Ralph Nader?”

Clearly, not eating pork chops is a symptom of some sort of dark and sinister quagmire that is imperiling  my very moral fiber; a quagmire from which he must swiftly rescue me.

Sounding like a robotic yet peppy telemarketer, he mirthlessly informed me that pork was “the other white meat.” He went onto say that “it’s what’s for dinner” (despite the beef board’s frequent statements to the contrary).

I started rolling my eyes when I heard him shouting to my mother about it, over the sizzle of grease in his pan and his dog Sadie’s hungry yowls in the background.

It did make me wonder though: why didn’t I eat pork chops? They’re fairly healthful, definitely tasty and even the most organic / sustainable / local ones I could find at Whole Foods were only $6.99 a pound.  (Each bone-in chop is about a half-pound).

Somehow, in my rush through the meat aisle or stands, chops got left in the dust. I always reached for various cuts of lamb, beef or chicken. When I eat pork, I tend to gravitate toward the belly. I was ready to give chops another try, using my dad’s tried and true recipe, with some extras thrown in for good measure. Click on for the recipes!

Continue reading

A Marriage of Convenience (& Authenticity): Enchiladas Especiales Tacuba Style

23 May

The gorgeous weather beckoned this weekend

What’s more important to you? Authenticity or convenience?

It’s an issue I struggle with because I love bargains. Gilt Groupe, Open Table, the Barney’s Warehouse blowout, Club Monaco’s sales racks = sex cream. My husband cuts my hair, my neighbor gives me butter coupons and my good friend Lisa knows that she can call me from any corner in the five boroughs at any time of the day or night secure in the knowledge that I will be able to put her within spitting distance of a happy hour.

Why pay retail?

But given the choice between a knockoff Chanel that could pass a Conde Nastie sniff test and a subpar cloth carryall for three times the price that even Stephen (whose favorite t-shirt features a cartoon anchor and includes the phrase “keelhaul em all”), I’ll choose the obviously, blatantly bad bag every time.

At least it’s not putting on airs. Same thing with food.

My heart goes out to Sandra Lee and Rachael Ray (their Sisyphean battles with fate as poverty stricken children, their messy love lives, strewn with oddball sex antics and small public humiliations) as people. But as chefs and lifestyle gurus? I can’t think of anything I’d rather do less than sit at one of Sandra’s Tablescapes and consume some of Rachael’s Yum-mo. They may all be semi-homemade, fast, easy and technically qualify as food, but Chicago Dog Salad (chopped Romaine and cabbage topped with chunks of hot dogs), et al, still isn’t anything I particularly want to put in my mouth.

Even Rachael Ray admits that she’d rather eat Martha Stewart’s food than her own.

Who wouldn’t want to sup on a terrine of rabbit, freshly ground up venison sausage, pickled heirloom cauliflower, ramp and dandelion green salad and chocolate souffles every night? But who has the time — or the budget — to dine like Martha, except for, well, Martha?

Being a foodie elitist is hard work! But it’s manageable to maintain one’s sustainable / locavore / organic / authentic / haute culinary chops on a budget … as long as you plan your recipes carefully. That’s where chefs like Rick Bayless come in; many of his recipes for fantastically complex, sophisticated Mexican dishes fit all of the above criteria and can be cranked out in large quantities and hold well.

I whipped up a monster batch of his Enchiladas Especial Tacuba style (with a few twists and tweaks, of course) this weekend. I made the chicken and the enchilada sauce in the morning and stuck them in the fridge; then I pulled the rest of it together last night in just 20 minutes before popping it in the oven — leaving us plenty of time for walks in the woods. Read on for the recipe.

Continue reading

Plate to Mouth: Braised Cauliflower Toss & Awesome Lowfat Muffins & Cold Sesame Noodles

16 May

A bright spot in the beige sprawl

Moving from Brooklyn to White Plains was easy and hard. Straight-forward in a totally complex way. A lilting buoy and a leaden depression.

I’ve made a list.

Things I love about White Plains:

It’s the county seat of Westchester. That’s good, right?

It fulfills Stephen’s definition of a city: everything he absolutely needs to get accomplished in order to make sure he remains clothed, fed and sheltered, can be accomplished. On foot.

Kam Sen Asian Market. It’s Westchester’s largest Asian market, according to its website! And seriously … it’s awesome. Want some crazy-ass dried herb you heard will turn your dry, chapped skin into a vision of peaches and cream if you mix it with coconut oil and is, by the way, illegal in 43 states? It’s there! Along with every noodle, rice, esoteric kim chi ingredient, tripe, duck feet and almost every form of protein known to man.

Having a dog walker who is lovely and normal and texts me photos of Penelope’s adventures — as opposed to an itinerant artist/hobo for hire who has the keys to our apartment and may rob us blind at any moment, a la Brooklyn.

Sun-dappled counter space!

A sunny apartment that seems gloriously spacious after living in a cramped, dark, semi-basement one-bedroom for four years. I can cook in the kitchen with Stephen and Penny without having to throw on Bad Religion and pretending I’m in a mosh pit. We can brush our teeth at the same time in the bathroom without standing single file, with one of our butts halfway into the hallway! Eureka!

Things I hate about White Plains:

Not being able to roll out bed and grab a platter of poutine and some deep-fried pork buns at 8:00 am. What’s wrong with these people?

White Plains fails to fulfill my definition of a city: an interesting multi-culti feel-good laid-back yet uptight place with great galleries, museums, musical events and grand groups of innocuous weirdos milling about. I guess I’m just a hippie.

Farm to table cuisine. There: I said it. I am a bourgeois nightmare. Yes, the trend which every restaurant has adopted to ridiculous extremes (I really don’t need to know where you source your toilet paper from, but thanks) can be tiresome, but it produces unquestionably fantastic food that you can feel good about eating. Uno’s? Not so much.

Having five malls within walking distance. Seriously? That’s just wrong.

Not being able to order an awesome low-fat muffin and then a giant vat of beautiful cold sesame noodles to balance out my yin and yang. Have you noticed a pattern? The food here is a problem.

Oh, and I also miss my friends.

To cure our food blues, we whipped up some of our own plate to mouth cuisine, using delicious items bought hot of the stale shelf at ShopRite! (And Kam Sen’s of course). Below, check out my recipes for Braised Cauliflower Toss, Awesome Lowfat Muffins (the secret is in the creaming process) and Cold Sesame Noodles.

Roasted Cauliflower Toss:

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • One head cauliflower (purple, white, orange — they all taste the same), split in half with florets removed
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 ounces Pecorino Romano, grated
  • Squirts of lemon juice to taste

Method:

  • After cleaning and removing the florets from the cauliflower, heat the oil in a large saute pan.
  • Add the cauliflower after the oil is hot and saute over medium to high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Saute for about one minute, reduce heat to medium, stirring to make sure all of the cauliflower is coated in oil, and cover the pan. This will help braise the cauliflower in a mixture of the oil and steam from the cooking; uncovered, it will cook faster and produce a less tender, flavorful dish.
  • After three minutes, check on the cauliflower. It should be just slightly browned and softened, but still crisp.
  • Top with grated cheese, a dash of lemon and serve.

Nutritional breakdown for Braised Cauliflower Toss: About 200 calories and 8 grams of fat. Full of antioxidants, folate, protein, fiber, Vitamins C and K.

Cost breakdown for Braised  Cauliflower Toss: About $1 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: Just a touch of lemon makes a huge difference in this dish; it brightens it and clarifies and compliments all of the nutty flavors of the cheese and the toothsomeness of the roasted cauliflower.

I like mine naked, Stephen likes his with blackberry jam

Awesome Lowfat Muffins

Makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or a blend of half all-purpose and half whole wheat; 100% whole wheat produces a tough muffin)
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup whole-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (lowfat is fine)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • Vegetable oil spray.

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray muffin tins with vegetable oil spray.
  • Whisk flour and baking powder together in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Add sugar, salt and butter to a stand mixer and whip with the wire whisk until light and fluffy on low, working up to high. This takes forever. Really, about five minutes, but it seems like a long and irritating process. I always want to rush it; don’t! The key to good low-fat muffins is in the crumb, and a good, light crumb can only be achieved by aerating the butter and sugar. It should resemble frosting.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together all of the liquid ingredients. Add to the whipped butter in three additions on medium-high and incorporate, scraping the batter down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as you go.
  • Add the flour and mix on low until incorporated. Add cherries and mix on low until incorporated.
  • Divvy up the batter in the muffin cups, pop in the oven. After 10 minutes, check on the muffins. Flip them around so they bake evenly. Check after another five. They should be close to done or already there at this point. They should be golden and puffy. Cool in muffin tin for a few minutes, unmold and allow to cool completely on a rack.

Nutritional breakdown for Awesome Lowfat Muffins: About 150 calories and 3 grams of fat. Relatively low in sugar, sodium, saturated fat. Relatively high in protein and fiber.

Cost breakdown for Awesome Lowfat Muffins: About $0.30 a muffin.

Verdict / In the Future: The creaming method transforms these muffins; even Stephen, highly suspicious of lowfat baked goods, gave it his seal of approval while noting that “something, a certain mouth-feel that you get with regular muffins” was missing without the addition of jam and butter. “But they don’t taste like the cardboard you used to crank out; they’re fluffy and creamy, just not as buttery.”

In an authentic takeout container, natch

Cold Sesame Noodles

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • For dressing: 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter, 1/4 cup tahini, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, 1/2 TBSP fresh peeled ginger, 3 garlic cloves, minced, 1 TBSP rice vinegar, 1 TBSP rice wine vinegar, 1/2 TBSP toasted sesame oil, 1 TBSP honey or sugar, 1/2 TBSP Korean red pepper paste
  • For noodles: 12 ounces dried egg noodles (boiled in salted water until al dente), 1 scallion thinly sliced, 1/2 red pepper thinly sliced, 1/2 cucumber cored and thinly sliced, 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

Method:

  • Blend ingredients for dressing. Toss with the rest of the ingredients.

Nutritional breakdown for Cold Sesame Noodles: About 400 calories and 13 grams of fat per serving. Decent source of protein and iron, fiber. Low in saturated fats. Sky high in sodium.

Cost breakdown for Cold Sesame Noodles: About $1.25 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: These noodles are one of our perennial favorites; feel free to adjust spices and swap out ingredients. Red pepper flakes, cayenne and even curry can work in place of the Korean hot pepper flakes. Lime juice works instead of vinegar. Cilantro is always nice if you have it.

The Next Day: Bacon-Fridge Veg Pasta & Random Poultry Hash

9 May

The vaguely threatening pinata

I realized it was time for bed when one party goer — who shall remain nameless — started meandering around my living room with a large bottle of distilled sugar cane in one hand. Periodically, and with great insistence, he issued what he evidently felt was an urgent query:

“Are you a pirate?”

The existential conundrum was swiftly followed by a confident declaration:

“Because I am! I’m a pirate.”

The individual in question then proceeded to tip back the bottle of tawny and empty a goodly quantity of its contents into his gaping maw, after which he would offer whichever person, dog or plant that happened to be in his line of sight, “a pull.”

Being of Irish and Scottish descent, this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo, of course. When I invited a few friends over to sample a batch of homemade beer that our friend John had brewed up (I occasionally stirred a pot of barley and kind of babysat thermometers while John and Stephen did the dirty work) and toast to Stephen’s birthday, I was prepared for the usual outbursts of emotion, song and dance that often accompany strong drink. I stocked up on carbohydrates, proteins and sugar; I proffered bacon and cheese pretzels, lasagna and of course, my favorite chocolate cake (courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated — yum!)

A very carb-y spread

I even found something that the men and children could beat with sticks when they became cranky: a pinata. I’m going to start bringing them with me to family reunions, weddings and funerals, and the second things start heading south, as they inevitably do, wah-la: Pinata time!

After demolishing the contents of the pinata, my fridge and our batch of Brown Ale (which we decided was good, but not great — next time we’re trying a lager), some of the heartier souls found their way to our liquor cabinet, and my secret back-up stash of pretzels and dip. The pirates set sail. A tiny, but extremely heartfelt and fervent dance party to power 80’s music ensued. Air guitars were proffered, high kicks were executed with far too little attention to form, high fives were issued and frequently missed.

Shortly before surrendering to my wiser instincts and heading to bed, I found myself dancing with Stephen and Penny to Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and sharing one last piece of decadent chocolate birthday cake.

I woke up to discover a superannuated back scratcher carved in the shape of a tiny hand waving to me just outside our bedroom; I found photographs, strangely askew on our shelves; one half of a pinata smiling in a rather threatening manner on my multimedia shelving rack, the other half was spewing candy from its keister on my little dining table; there were dishes to be done, beer glass rings to scrub, and yes, over-served victims of the previous night’s more ambitious and enthusiastic beverage and snack enthusiasts.

What does one prepare for the over-served? Hair of the dog? Black coffee? Burnt toast? After many years of long and bitter experience on Sundays following large gatherings with my brethren, I’ve found that those “solutions” either merely delay (hair of the dog) the symptoms  of an overtaxed, toxic liver attempting to emerge from the boozy brine it’s pickling in, or just makes the sufferer even more jumpy and jittery (coffee), or just taste bad and irritate the already tetchy (burnt toast).

What does work? Time, water, the cysteine in eggs (it breaks down the toxin acetaldehyde), a bit of protein for energy, and foods high in vitamin C, B and potassium.

Below, check out my recipes for Bacon-Fridge Veg Pasta and Random Poultry Hash.

Continue reading

Foreign Made Familiar: Stephen’s Rice and Beans & Kathleen’s Black Bean Salad

2 May

Our new favorite recipe for Chicken Croquetas, courtesy of Tasting Table

There’s something at once heartbreaking and wonderful about a dish, steeped in a history and a culture, that is snatched away from its roots and planted in foreign soil. Whenever something leaves its home terroir, it abandons some of its essence. Deposited in a new soil, it finds new fodder on which to feed, a different quality of sunlight shining down on its leaves and new bees and birds supping on their nectar. And when it blossoms anew, we often find new colors, flavors and textures vying for our attention.

In every city we’ve lived, from every lover we’ve embraced, from the mothers and grandmothers’ hands who nourished us in our youths, we’ve borrowed, begged and stolen dishes, recipes and tastes. Some are simple and prosaic, like buttered noodles with fresh chopped parsley (my roommate Amy from our days in Providence), others are complex, unctuous and expensive (my Mom’s cassoulet that she perfected when we were in Munich), while others have to be tasted to be desired (my dad’s delicious peanut butter, bacon and mayo sandwich that he grew up on as a kid in Chicago).

Every time we recreate a dish from our past, we’re not just throwing together ingredients, we’re magicians, conjuring up fragments of memories, symphonies of senses, the warm touches of departed love ones. We’re repainting classical pieces of art, acts of innocuous transgression. Ultimately, the final dish incorporates different ingredients and techniques and is cooked at different temperatures in different equipment; it’s never the same.

Entire cuisines, most notably Italian and Chinese, went through this process of assimilation in America. Entire systems of preparation were transformed in the hands of immigrants who found totally foreign ingredients and palates stateside — but still craved the same basics they grew up on.

Julia Child, James Beard and Alice Waters paved the way for home gourmands by tweaking and reinterpreting classical cuisine, often with the use of simple, humble, seasonal ingredients. They made welling up over a saucepan of roux that reminds you of Grandma’s farm in Indiana seem vaguely less than clinically insane; they made sipping wine while vigorously whisking said roux seem de rigueur; they elevated a simply prepared macaroni dish to a transcendental experience worthy of pathos, Strauss and hours of Freudian analysis.

Below, check out Stephen’s recipe for Rice and Beans — one of our all-time Willcox-Repsher classics. The dish is inspired by his late mother, who made a ridiculously rich and delicious Chicken Divan when he was growing up. He loved it so much, it eventually supplanted even pizza on his all-time birthday dinner request list as a kid. When he went to law school and I was attempting to support us on my laughable salary, we spent a lot of our time eating this delicious, but decidedly less rich and expensive (goodbye boneless chicken breast, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, wads of cheese, cups of mayo) but equally delicious (hello kidney beans, dark raisins, fresh dill, lime juice, mere cup or so of mayo) version. I also threw in my favorite Black Bean recipe, which reminds me of all of the church picnics I went to growing up; it’s highly tweakable depending on your mood and the season and the exact number of hours you think it’s going to spend sweating in the sun. Oh, and here’s a link to the recipe for Chicken Croquetas (it’s Joshua Whigman’s recipe).

Continue reading