Archive | September, 2011

On Designer Kitchen Ingredients: Roast Pork Loin with Creme Fraiche Veloute

26 Sep

Creamy sauces, roasted meats. Fall has arrived!

There are a handful of kitchen ingredients that always provoke an eye roll from yours truly. Truffle salt. Yerba Buena. Artisanal butter. Essential oil crystals.

Really? Our palates are so sophisticated and refined we need to saute our new potatoes in $32 artisanal butter flown halfway across the world? Good ol’ organic Vermont butter just won’t cut it?

I get as blown away and wrapped up in the beautifully packaged, overpriced silliness at Whole Foods as the next Gastronomica subscribing kombucha quaffer, but when I find myself rationalizing double digit expenditures on unpasteurized dairy products, I try to remind myself:

This isn’t rocket science. We’re not saving lives.

We are just whipping up some ingredients to put on a plate for our friends and family to eat.

Why do we need to complicate things with esoteric froufrou?

However. There are exceptions.

Crème fraiche, in my mind, falls into the dubious category of over-priced designer fridge n’ pantry accouterments, but rules are made to be broken.

This summer, everywhere I went, it was on sale (was their a market glut? If so, can it be replicated now that Fall is here and I need cream-based sauces in my life more than ever?), and I became hooked. I started surreptitiously dipping late summer berries in it; before long, I was whipping it into salad dressings and swirling it into soups. I hit rock-bottom when I started spooning it over my oatmeal and casually slathering my low-fat frozen yogurt in goopy globs of it. (In what universe does it make sense to add a half-cup of fat-laden dairy products to diet desserts? No se.)

Crème fraiche is lush; it’s a culinary makeover in an adorable, pert tub. It’s delicacy is balanced by its soul-satisfying deep-dark chasm of intense flavor. Boil it (it won’t curdle), serve it straight up (it can stand on its own), add it to sauces for added depth (you’ll be shocked at how much more full and complete they taste with just a tablespoon or two). Richer than Midas, crème fraiche is light as a wisp of late-summer wind.

I made a roast pork loin this past weekend with a standard stock-based sauce to drizzle on top. It was quite good. But I knew it could be phenomenal. I tasted another spoonful of sauce. More butter? Eh. Salt? No, not with my salty loin. Stock? Heavens no, that would thin it. Shrooms? No, too chunky! And then reached into the back of the fridge for the crème fraiche to finish the sauce. I took another taste, and I knew I’d hit flavor pay-dirt. Huzzah.

Crème fraiche is one designer ingredient I’ll shell out an extra shekel or two for. Like the chic, battered Louis Vuitton my mom has been hauling around for 20 years, it’s more than a trendy blip on the scene. It’s been around. It’s seen some stuff. It’s here to stay.

(And if your weakness is truffle salt, your secret is safe with me. We all have our problems).

Click on for my crème fraiche-infused, saucy pork loin on rice recipe.

(Side note: Unlike crème fraiche, pork loin is extremely cost effective ounce for ounce, but its cheapness comes at a price. These days, American pigs are bred to be super light on fat and grocery store loin needs a serious dose of flava’, in the form here of brief pan-searing, garlic sewing and sauce dolloping, to make it as delicious as the iconic roast loin we remember from our childhoods).

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Cook and Go-Go-Go: Chinese Spaghetti, Two Ways

19 Sep

Penny thinks I should stay home and hang out with her

Sometimes, my work weeks sprout up and grow like sinister weeds, threatening to choke my entire life in an incoherent jumble of superfluous paper work. This is bound to happen every once in a while if you insist on holding down a full time job + three freelance gigs + you possess a robotic sense of duty that stands in firm opposition to fun.

Add a few standard family-life snafus to the mix and food becomes something you cram in your head hole while talking on the phone and running down the hallway with too many bags strapped to your shoulders, not something you carefully prepare and savor with loved ones.

After just one of those weeks, I was craving my Dad’s spaghetti Bolognese, something that requires a full day of cooking, and a serious financial outlay to do properly, neither of which I had even the remotest desire to produce. (When I was a kid and someone moved my cheese or generally disrupted my need for absolute broken-record routine, I’d demand my Dad’s spaghetti Bolognese and eat it until my brain’s “uh-oh” button stopped flashing).

As an adult, when the goin’ gets tough, the need for Dad’s sghetti has not dissipated. Instead, it has been united with a visceral craving for fried Chinese takeout. The ideal treat is cold sesame noodles and dumplings with a side of Dad’s spaghetti. (Not great for my cholesterol, but cheaper than therapy. Also, I was raised Catholic, so chugging merlot straight from the bottle and crying for an hour in considered to be a healthier form of problem-solving than talk therapy. Eating pasta? Even better!).

Over the years, I’ve cranked out a few go-to recipes that meld the two comforting flavor profiles in one giant mound of noodles – and they’re super fast to make and transport, perfect for throwing in to-go containers so I can tote em along on my next zany errand.

I like the vegetarian version, Stephen loves the meaty version. Click on for recipes and pictures.

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High-Carb Diet: Mom and Dad’s Twice Baked Potatoes & Super-Simple Late Summer Pasta

12 Sep

September 11th is a weird day for everyone. You feel like a jerk if you go about your day as if it’s any other day. You feel like a jerk if you mope around with dramatically downcast eyes, unless you lost a member of your immediate family in the attacks. You feel like an ineffectual, unpatriotic, vaguely awkward jerk no matter what you do.

I threw up my hands and just surfed the wave of blues with everyone else, called my parents, sent my girlfriends an embarrassingly cheesy email, hugged my dog a few more times than strictly necessary and went to a half-triathlon with Stephen in the stunningly beautiful 500-acre plus Croton Point Park to hang out with a bunch of other confused Hudson Valley-ers who didn’t know what else to do.

There was a memorial ceremony under a searingly blue, if cloudy, sky, and then more than a thousand emaciated, muscle-bound athletes hopped up on B Vitamins and bananas were let loose. Watching them blaze through the rippling water and the wildflower-dotted fields to the sound of cowbells, clapping and children’s screeches, I couldn’t help but have an almost physical upsurge of patriotism. Whenever I hear a bunch of drunken frat boys chant “USA! USA!” during a football game or other event centered around hand-eye coordination, I generally roll my eyes, tense my jaw and sigh like a PMSy-teenager who just had her iPhone taken away. But now, I kinda get it. (Kinda).

Then it was time to go home and make dinner.

I am a firm believer in mood eating. Pasta is always at the tip-top of our comfort food list, and being of Irish descent, tators will never be far behind. Cheese? It’s a given. I did a spin on my Mom and Dad’s recipe for Twice-Baked Potatoes and whipped up a super-simple pasta late-summer made using a tomato technique I borrowed from Lottie + Doof, who borrowed it from Michael Ruhlman.

Quick note on cheese: I have been using Pecorino Romano in place of Parmesan a lot lately (I used it in the recipes below too). It’s generally $2-$10 cheaper per pound, and I’ve found that it’s tastier. It’s a bit richer and saltier, and a touch softer, while still landing firmly in the firm category of cheese. Pecorino Romano is also made with sheep’s milk rather than Parmesan’s cow’s milk, and I find that sheep’s milk generally produces a sharper, more pungent (but not funky) flavor.

Click on for recipes and pictures!

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Grandma’s Table: Curry Turkey Pot Pie & Butterscotch Pudding

5 Sep

See the frog? It's leopard print is so fall 2011.

Holiday weekends are a bust if they’re not a whirlwind wound round the tail of a tsunami riding on the back of a dervish surfing through a hurricane in a hot pink dress. Or something. At any rate, one should certainly emerge leaking DIY projects, skunked beer and too many hamburgers from one’s bloated, pale gills.

Stephen, Penny and I are currently shuttling between our apartment in White Plains, our new house in Kent Lakes and my homies in Brooklyn, so our gills were leaky and bloated long before Labor Day dawned. We brought it to a new level of crazy this weekend though: costly shopping outings to Sears (lawn mower), Whole Foods (specialized comestibles), Costco (standard comestibles), Target (everything else, and I do mean everything); complicated painting projects involving wood paneling and OCD; important beer and boudin ball tastings with Lisa at d.b.a.; opening mailboxes in the black of night only to find a large webbed insect nest that wants to eat my soul; driving down the highway in the wrong direction with my mom (don’t ask); shuttling to and fro between makeshift residences like confused children in an ugly custody battle.

So many panels, nooks and crannies to prime!

Prime, paint, rinse, repeat

Generally, when we’re over-worked and spread too thin, Stephen and I both display a predictable array of personality disorders. Certain adjectives come to mind, but I’m too polite to repeat them. This time at the rodeo, we’re both just happy and excited to begin our new phase (and probably too terrified as first time homeowners to lash out).

I’m sad to leave our good friends and favorite places in the steel and glass metropolis, but I won’t miss the relentless sound of the city’s collective Sisyphean battle of one-upsmanship in all things. Stephen and I are still talking too fast, too loudly, too brightly to people we meet in the country, and for the first time this weekend, it sounded false and tinny. It will take a while to shake off the last vestiges of city politesse, but I’m sure we’ll be on our front porch in rocking chairs with hay stuck between our teeth, red hankies tied around our necks, spit-polishing our guns in no time.

In the meantime, we’ve gotta eat. This week, we made twists on a few of my grandmother’s classics – pot pie and pudding. NB: Grandma would not have approved of the use of curry in any pie. I also used scraps to make a great vegetable stock that I’ll use to baste vegetables in, poach chicken and put in simple soups this week. It’s essentially free to make (just throw corn cobs, mushroom stems, onion and carrot scraps into a pot, cover with water, throw in some herbs a bay leaf and lots of salt, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cook for about 20 minutes, strain and store), and it adds a flavorful kick to everything. Tres Grandma.

Dig in below for recipes and photos…

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