Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Lovely Leftover

Last week I had some leftover ricotta cheese in the fridge and didn't want to toss it. I know I could've made ricotta cheese cake or manicotti and been done with it, but I was feeling more adventurous. I wound up on a site called The Cookbook Junkie, which offered a recipe for Lemon-Ricotta Muffins from Good Housekeeping in 1999. I was sold.

And I was surprised, too, because for a clean-out-the-fridge effort, this one was great. I'd have been happy if the muffins had turned out fine. But they're actually delicious. Light and citrus-y (I used both lemon and lime zest) and just a touch more substantial than your average muffin. The ricotta lends creaminess to the inside of the muffins, and with an ample amount of sugar on top, the muffins have slightly crunchy and glittery lids. And unlike many homemade muffins, they don't get soggy after a day.

My advice: don't wait for leftover ricotta.--S

Monday, February 18, 2008

Healthy Comfort

It's a rainy night in New York City. I'm hungry, but since Fork is at band practice, I don't feel like cooking a big ol' dinner for one. Yet I want something healthy, as my diet today mainly consisted of two granola bars, a muffin and some leftover ravioli (all tasty, yet lacking in the fresh vegetable department). So I turned to a recipe I'd tried once before, that had turned out well but left me with a few thoughts a la "next time I make this...."

And tonight, I nailed it. I love the recipe's name: Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens. It's from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking, a book I rave about often. You sautee large white beans in olive oil, letting them sit long enough to brown, so they become golden and a little crunchy on the outside, and soft and creamy on the inside. You add some garlic and onion, and then you stir in fresh greens--kale, tonight--until they wilt. Top the dish with some freshly grated Parmesan, a smattering of hot pepper flakes, and you've got yourself a meal.

This time, I made sure to use truly "giant" beans. Last time I'd used cannellini, and they just didn't hold up to the sauteeing as well. I also julienned the kale instead of roughly chopping it, which made it a little softer but still nowhere near overdone. And against Heidi's advice, I used canned beans--butter beans, to be exact--instead of dried ones that I'd previously soaked and simmered for hours. I wanted to eat this dish tonight. And it turned out fine. Next time you want a fast, healthy, comforting dish, I highly recommend this keeper.--S

Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish, 3 or 4 as a main course

1/2 lb. medium or large dried white beans, cooked [I think canned work fine. I used butter beans, but you can also use giant corona beans or cellini beans]
3 T clarified butter or olive oil
Fine-grain sea salt
1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 or 7 big leaves chard, preferably rainbow chard, leaves cut into wide ribbons and 1 or 2 stems cut into 1/2-in. pieces [I used kale]
Freshly ground black peppper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

1. Drain the beans, then heat the butter over medium-high heat in the widest skillet you've got. Add the beans to the hot pan in a single layer. If you don't have a big-enough skillet, just do the saute step in two batches or save the extra beans for another use. Stir to coat the beans with butter, then let them sit long enough to brown on one side, about 3-4 min., before turning to brown the other side, also about 3-4 min. The beans should be golden and a bit crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Salt to taste.
2. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1-2 min., until the onion softens.
3. Stir in the chard and cook until just beginning to wilt.
4. Remove from the heat and season to taste with a generous dose of salt & pepper. Drizzle with a bit of top-quality extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan.

Recipe courtesy of Super Natural Cooking

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Brought To You By Lipitor!

Whenever I watch Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton on television, I wonder who put the peppercorn up his ass. He's utterly humorless, sometimes downright surly, and quite frankly he's not an obvious master of either food or the language. So when Bon Appetit and the Food Network put Knowlton together with Alton Brown to host a one-hour show on "Best American Restaurants," it wasn't exactly a recipe for success.

But before I slam Knowlton, I have to say I really don't hate him because he's beautfiul. And, this one is not entirely his fault. Rather, it seems like yet another case of the Food Network jumping the shark. First of all, the premise of picking the best of anything food-related is an impossible task, especially in an hour. Seeing Knowlton with his Dan Cortese-like mimbo hair trying to say something not obvious about pizza (it's the crust), or tacos (the ingredients matter) was absurd. Not to mention, the foods they chose to judge (also steak, ribs, burgers, fried chicken) is hardly the kind of dining I think of when of I think of Bon Appetit. I guess they needed Lipitor's ad budget. Next year they should call it the Cholesterol Cup.

All in all, this Best American Restaurant crap made me realize a few things. First, I really do watch entirely too much Food Network. But truth is, I mostly watch now to see how stupid the programming can be: can Jeffrey Steingarten make it through10 courses of oxtail without audibly farting, or dying? It also made me appreciate how much I like Alton Brown and respect his ability to teach me something, entertain, all without taking himself so seriously. And, when it comes to food magazines, it's Food & Wine for me all the way.--F

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eggplant Zapatini

Each issue of Everyday Food has a page with the unfortunate title "zap it," featuring a dish cooked entirely in the microwave. I've never made any of these recipes, a little skeeved out with the idea of cooking my dinner entirely with microwave radiation, no matter how safe they say it is.

So I compromised on this month's offering. For EF's "zap-it" version of Eggplant Rollatini, you season eggplant slices with salt and pepper and microwave them "until tender and pliable but not fully cooked, 6 to 8 minutes." I zapped them for 5 minutes, and worried that even that was too much, but it turned out alright. However, I wasn't about to roll them up with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, egg, garlic, salt and pepper and zap that. The recipe recommended 15 to 17 minutes and I imagined a rubbery mass of eggplant and cheese. So I baked the rolled eggplant, surrounded with some of my homemade marinara, at 350 for 20 minutes, going on my grandfather's old saw, "I like a nice 350 oven." Once the sauce was bubbling up from the bottom of the dish, I scattered some shredded fresh mozzarella on top and let it melt for another four minutes.

Semi-zapped, I'll take this dinner any day. Salty cheese stuffed inside eggplant that had become almost sweet in the cooking, topped with chunks of tomatoes. And now I've got another use for my microwave besides warming up milk for my morning coffee.--S

Saturday, February 09, 2008

If It's Good Enough for Google...

For six years, Chef Charlie Ayers served breakfast, lunch and dinner to the geniuses at Google's Mountain View, Calif., office. His goal: to keep the employees working and not give them any reason to leave the "campus." Ayers' menus offered tasty food that nourished bodies and brains. He left Google in 2005, and now he's written a cookbook, Food 2.0: Secrets From the Chef Who Fed Google.

So what do Googlers eat every day? It's not that groundbreaking, really: smoothies, granola, breakfast tacos, rice salads, vegetable soups and spicy chicken dishes. At a breakfast hosted by Ayers' publisher in December, the chef told me fried chicken was one of the most popular dishes at Google. That recipe didn't make it into the book--guess it's tough to make a case for fried chicken as "brain food."

What Ayers did include was an oatmeal concoction he calls Quick Apple-Oaty Thing. It's a souped-up oatmeal, wherein you cook the apples in the simmering oats, along with other goodies like dried fruit and toasted pumpkin seeds. At the end, you swirl in honey and thick yogurt. I made it for breakfast this morning and have to say I'm impressed. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference. Now I'm off to go crunch numbers or do something equally brainy.--S

Quick Apple-Oaty Thing

serves 1 [I think it's more like 2]

3/4 c rolled oats
1 1/2 c apple cider or water
1 small apple, cored & diced
2 T of your favorite dried fruits, chopped if necessary
1 T toasted pumpkin seeds
1 T flaxseed oil
Wild-blossom honey
Large spoonful of thick plain or vanilla yogurt

1. Combine the oats, apple cider or water, apple, dried fruits, and pumpkin seeds in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring, until thick and the oats are cooked, about 5 min. The apple should still have some texture to it. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 min.
2. Stir in the flax oil and sweeten to taste with honey. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with the yogurt. Drizzle a little more honey over the top if you want a sweeter finish.

Recipe courtesy of Food 2.0

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Pride of Szeged

Let me make one thing clear: I have never had Hungarian food. I don't know what Goulash is, and my only frame of reference for Chicken Paprika is from When Harry Met Sally ("Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash"). I have no idea what Chicken Paprika is supposed to taste like. But I made it tonight, and it was pretty excellent, authentic or not.

Taking advice from my friend Jonny, I made the version from the 75th anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. It was easy to prepare and didn't require many ingredients: paprika, garlic, a bay leaf, onions, sour cream and chicken. The trickiest part was thinly slicing three cups of onions. I used Pride of Szeged Hungarian Hot Paprika, which is delicious, though spicy. So I substituted about half of the recommended quarter-cup with regular McCormick paprika. It turned out fine, and swirling sour cream into the sauce at the end softened the spice somewhat.

Also at Jonny's suggestion, I made dumplings--another first for this Italian-American. Light and fluffy, akin to matzo balls, they were the perfect complement to the chicken. They served as a kind of stand-in to rice, helping us sop up the hot sauce and straggling shoelaces of onion. Who's Hungary?--S

Chicken Paprika (Paprikas Csirke)
serves 4

1. Season 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 lbs chicken parts generously with salt and black pepper.
2. Heat 2 T butter in a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken without crowding and cook, turning once, until golden, about 5 min. per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and brown the remaining chicken.
3. Add 3 c. very thinly sliced onions to the fat in the skillet. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring, until the onions begin to color, about 10 min.
4. Sprinkle with 1/4 c sweet paprika, 2 T minced garlic, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 t salt and 1/2 t black pepper. Also add 1 1/2 c chicken stock. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Return the chicken, with any accumulated juices, to the skillet. Reduce the heat so that the liquid barely bubbles, cover, and cook, turning the chicken once or twice, until a thigh registers 180 degrees F on a thermometer, 20 to 30 min.
5. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover to keep warm. Discard the bay leaf. Let the sauce stand briefly, then skim the fat off the surface with a spoon. Boil the sauce over high heat until very thick, almost pasty.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat and whisk in 1 to 1 1/2 c sour cream. Return the sauce to high heat and boil until thickened.
7. Season with salt and pepper to taste and several drops of fresh lemon juice. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.


1. Whisk together 1 c cake flour, 2 t baking powder and 1/2 t salt.
2. Break an egg into a 1-cup measure. Add milk until the cup is half full. Beat well and stir the liquid slowly into the dry ingredients. Add more milk if necessary but keep the batter as stiff as possible.
3. Optional: add 1/4 c finely chopped parsley or 1 T fresh chopped herbs or 1/2 t grated onion.
4. Bring 2 or 3 cups stock or broth just to a boil in a large saucepan.
5. To drop dumpling batter from a spoon easily, dip the spoon in stock first; then dip the spoon in the batter, fill it, and drop the batter into the stock. Continue doing this until the dumplings are barely touching.
6. Cover the pot and simmer 10 minutes. Dumplings should be served at once.

Recipes courtesy of Joy of Cooking

Saturday, February 02, 2008

No Offense, Oatmeal

I'm back in New York after spending a week in the sun. Oatmeal's on the stove and it's pretty gray outside. It's a far cry from where I was a few days ago. We'd just come home from a gorgeous, grueling early morning run up and down some very steep hills. The turquoise vistas from the top of the inclines certainly were nice, but the real reward came when we returned home and dug into breakfast.

That day, my mom had made a strata--which, in my mind, is tastier than an omelette, much more fun than eggs and toast, and even a little healthy.

This strata included torn bits of English muffin, ham, cheese, asparagus, tomatoes--and, of course, eggs. My mom prepped them the night before, adding each ingredient to a small ramekin (she had stuffed five of them in her suitcase and brought them from home--'cause everyone does that when they go on vacation, right?). Then, in the morning, she arranged them on a roasting pan and put them in the oven for a half-hour.

The stratas were delicious. The eggs were gently cooked, still very soft, and the bread, asparagus, tomatoes and ham were nestled inside, suspended within bits of egg white and yolk. A dollop of dijon mustard added zip. This was the perfect breakfast. Sorry, oatmeal, didn't mean to offend you.--S

serves 2

1. Combine 1 1/2 English muffins torn into pieces with 2 slices cooked, crumbled bacon (or cooked ham), and 1/4 c cut-up asparagus or broccoli (you can blanche the veggies first if you want).
2. Divide between 2 (6-8 oz) ramekins. Pour over this a mixture of two eggs beaten with 1/2 c milk, 2 T Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 thinly sliced green onion, 1 t Dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Chill 2 to 24 hours.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F, bake 30-35 minutes, until inserted knife comes out clean. Sprinkle grated cheese and diced tomato over stratas. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Traditional Home