Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dinner at Home, Finally

After spending three days schlepping around the Javits Center for BookExpo, I wanted nothing more tonight than a home-cooked meal. This year's show did entail some good eats, including a wonderful party hosted by the Lee Bros., which featured boiled peanuts, fried chicken and Dogfish Head beer. But it also entailed choking down a squished turkey sandwich in the basement of the convention center as I filed stories on deadline.

So a homemade dinner was definitely on the menu. I decided to make Hunter's-Style Chicken with Rosemary, which sounds much better in Italian: Pollo alla Cacciatora. I'll save my grandfather's legendary version for another post, but this version, from Lidia's Italy, is very, very good. It fit the bill nicely. The ingredient list is brief (chicken, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, plum tomatoes). The procedure couldn't be simpler (brown chicken in olive oil; add garlic, rosemary, hot pepper, crushed tomatoes and water; simmer). And the finished dish was satisfying and delicious.

I made a pot of polenta while the chicken simmered (whisk 1 cup cornmeal with 1 cup water and a dash of salt; stir in 2 cups boiling water; cook over medium heat, stirring, until desired consistency). As Lidia advises (and you know how I trust her), it's nice to spoon the chicken--which, once finished, is falling off the bone--and tomato sauce on top. The polenta soaks up the sauce, everything melds together, and you've got a wonderful meal. Happiness.--S

Hunter’s-Style Chicken with Rosemary

4-lb chicken cut into 8-10 pieces (I used thighs and drumsticks)
1 1/2 t sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half
2 short branches fresh rosemary with lots of needles
1/2 ts peperoncino flakes or to taste
4 c or a 35 oz can of canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand

1. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Season with salt. Pour olive oil in pan and set over medium high heat. Place chicken skin side down in pan to brown for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over and brown another 2 to 3 minutes. Scatter the garlic into the hot fat in between chicken and then drop in rosemary stems and sprinkle peperoncino over.
2. Keep turning chicken until nicely browned all over, 10 minutes or so, then pour in tomatoes slowly. Slosh the tomato can with a cup of water and pour that in too. Sprinkle another 1/2 tsp salt, raise heat, and turn and stir chicken in juices as they come to a boil.
3. Cover pan, leaving slightly ajar. Adjust heat to maintain steady bubbling. Cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally and turning chicken. Remove cover and cook another 20 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked through.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Culture Club

Yogurt doesn't really get the props it deserves. Obviously it's an easy, healthy breakfast food (my fave: honey, blueberries and some clumps of granola). It's also a great dessert (sprinkle some sugar on top; serve with bananas and a dash of cinnamon). But I also use it as a sauce (stir in some feta, chopped scallions, salt and pepper; or just swirl in some cumin and salt). Plus, you can make it into cheese! With such endless possibilities, I buy a lot of yogurt. And a few months ago I started thinking about making my own.

So I got a yogurt maker. I'm still playing around with the length of time I keep the yogurt in the machine, but the most recent batch I made was delicious. After catching a yogurt-centric episode of Good Eats, I followed a recipe from Alton Brown, and I was impressed. He calls for organic milk, a bit of powdered milk, a dash of honey and a little bit of actual yogurt (so you can build upon the cultures to make your own). The yogurt turned out tangy, smooth and thick but pour-able. I hadn't had yogurt this tasty since our favorite breakfast spot in Tulum.

I know people say appliances that have only one function are a waste. And I know that in a New York City apartment I should probably be judicious about what new gadgets I bring in to my kitchen. But this yogurt maker is kind of cool looking ("Euro Cuisine!"), and, well, I'll admit I was pretty taken with the little glass jars with lids that have an adjustable window for you to change the date (so you know how old the yogurt is when you store it in your refrigerator). I'm such a sucker!

But aside from the fun gadgetry, this yogurt really is delicious. I'm going to try some variations in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. -S

Sunday, May 17, 2009


First let me say that my Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies looked nothing like the picture in Martha Stewart's Cookies (not the first time that's happened). I followed the recipe, but they were not smooth and flat, did not resemble chocolate pancakes, and were instead kind of bulging, amorphous blobs. I used a cookie scoop to make sure each one was the same size, so I don't think that was the problem. I think it had something to do with my oven, which doesn't recover too well when I open the door (as in, the temperature drops and doesn't come back up for, like, 20 minutes. I need to deal with this problem, I know).

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way: these whoopie pies really are tasty. A decadent dessert, no doubt--there's a lot of butter between the cakes and the frosting, not to mention buttermilk and lots of sugar. But chocolate and peanut butter go well together, as you might have heard. The cakes are light, and the frosting's divine--especially with a dash of sea salt mixed into it. If you're making these for a party, you might want to make each cake with just a tablespoon of batter, so your pies are a little more bite-sized and manageable. If you're making them for a smaller group, go big. Your friends won't complain, I promise.--S

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forget Cornflakes

I've heard of using crushed cornflakes to coat chicken, but crushed tortilla chips? That's a new one. Turns out it's a really good one, too.

To make Tortilla Chicken Drumsticks, you whirl corn tortilla chips in a food processor with chili powder, cumin and salt (though you'll want to watch your salt since the chips are pretty salty themselves) until they're coarsely ground. Then you dip chicken drumsticks in a mixture of egg and chili powder (I used cayenne), let the excess drip off, and roll the drumsticks in the ground chip mixture. It adheres quite nicely, thanks to the egg, though you may want to press it on to any spots that didn't pick it up. And into a hot oven they go. After 40 or so minutes, you have crispy, moist, spicy, delicious chicken that could become your new favorite weeknight dinner. No huge ingredient list, items that are easy to find, and inexpensive, to boot.

On the side, roast some potato wedges, and serve everything with Cilantro-Lime Mayonnaise, which tempers the chicken's heat really nicely, and a squeeze of lime juice. You can keep your cornflakes. I'm sticking with tortilla chips.--S

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All Hail Mikey G

At a talent show-themed birthday party when I was a kid, my cousin Mike dressed up as Julia Child and gave a cooking demonstration. He was about 10 years old. I don't remember what he made but it entailed him telling us to "Set your flame at a nice speed," in a high-pitched voice. Fast-forward about 20 years, and Mike's living in California wine country and still loves to cook. Whether it's lobster bisque or a simple tomato sauce and meatballs, the kid does it really well. The only recipe I have of his is for Caesar Salad Dressing, and though that may seem like a throwaway, it's actually become a staple in my kitchen.

The dressing is just garlicky enough and the perfect consistency for dressing on crisp romaine. I make a few adjustments, like toning down the anchovies, and rarely make an entire recipe, since a halved recipe is usually more than enough for a salad that serves four. You must use a blender or mini-food processor, first to make sure you've pureed the garlic and anchovy, but second because a blender aerates the dressing somewhat, so it's a little frothy and not at all gooey (it's beyond me how waiters who prepare Caesar Salad tableside in fancy restaurants achieve this consistency).

I seriously urge you to make this dressing next time you're having friends, Romans, countrymen over (ha). They'll be hailing you.--S

Caesar Salad

(in blender)
1 c olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
1 can anchovies [I use only 3 or 4 anchovies]
1 heaping t Dijon mustard
5-6 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1/4 to 1/3 c red wine vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt

Friday, May 08, 2009

Back to Basics

After three attempts at vegan baking (in addition to these, I also made a so-so banana bread), I was anxious to get back to what I knew. You know: eggs, butter, sugar, buttermilk. So I reached for a cookbook that never fails me: Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook. Aunt Betty had placed a "very good" note on the recipe for Orange Poppy Seed Muffins. I've always liked the lemon-poppy seed combination and had a feeling I'd like orange-poppy, too.

I was right: these muffins are delicious. They are moist, thanks to buttermilk; and light, since the recipe instructs you to beat the egg yolks into the batter, then separately whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the batter. Orange zest brightens the flavor, and the soft crunch of poppy seeds is really nice.

Of course, you will note that the muffin in the photo looks a little well done. I'm still trying to figure out my new oven, although I'm not entirely sure it's a matter of me getting used to it (I think it may need recalibration). But even with their toasty tops, these muffins are pretty terrific. If you know what you're doing with your oven, they'll be even better.--S
Orange Poppy Seed Muffins
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 T freshly grated orange rind
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk
2 T poppy seeds
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease nine 3" x 1 1/2" muffin cups.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange rind and vanilla.
4. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture. Fold in the poppy seeds. Beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold into batter. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them to the top.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
Recipe courtesy of Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Veal Burger

You know what to do when life gives you lemons... but what about when life gives you leftover ground veal? Make Veal Burgers Stuffed with Mozzarella Cheese.

I'd always thought a cheese-stuffed burger sounded a bit over-the-top. But ground veal has a pretty subtle flavor, so adding cheese (and chopped green onions) gives it a little oomph. Also, it's fun to make little cheese sandwiches with two patties of meat as bread! I'd never had a veal burger before, and it turns out that veal is actually a terrific meat for burgers because it's moist and holds together nicely. It's on the leaner side, so adding some fat--in this case fresh mozzarella--is perfectly justified, in my mind.

This recipe has you whip up a mustard-mayo sauce with lemon zest and sage, which you spread atop the burgers. It also advises you to roast some portobello mushrooms with olive oil and garlic, and put those on your burger, too. I endorse this without hesitation.

"We hated that," Fork commented at the end of dinner. Our plates were wiped clean.--S

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Adventures in Veganism

I'm pretty sure that the photo at left is not vegan-friendly. For one, the milk is from a cow. And secondly, the chocolate chips in that delicious little brownie bite are not vegan chocolate chips. But other than that, I think the vegans would be proud: I am experimenting with vegan baking. Not because I want to become a vegan (I just picked up some sausage for dinner), but because I recently visited BabyCakes NYC, a bakery on the Lower East Side where baker Erin McKenna makes vegan cupcakes, cookies, brownies, scones, muffins and other baked goods. And here's the thing: everything I tasted there was really good.

So I was curious about trying a few recipes from Erin's new book, BabyCakes. Unfortunately, this meant spending about $40 at the health food store on things like xanthan gum and arrowroot. I know: xan-what? Arrowhead? Seriously. This is all brand-new to me, and I'm not quite sold on it yet. But I'm up for the experiment.

The first thing I tried was the Apple-Cinnamon Toastie quickbread. Weird ingredients: garbanzo-fava bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot, xanthan gum, coconut oil ($12 a jar!) and evaporated cane juice (which I learned is a fancy way of saying natural cane sugar--so I guess it's not weird after all). Not weird: baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, applesauce, vanilla extract and roasted apples. The bread was terrific out of the oven: moist and not overly sweet. But the next morning it was a soggy mess. A tasty soggy mess, but still. Was it because I wrapped it with plastic wrap? Maybe it needed a little air. Or was it some sort of vegan thing?

At least I had most of the ingredients I needed for Brownies. The only thing I needed to buy were chocolate chips (of course, the recipe specifies vegan chocolate chips, but--guess what?--Gristede's doesn't sell them, and I wasn't up for another trip to the completely disorienting baking aisle of the health food store). So in went all the wacky vegan ingredients like garbanzo bean flour and arrowroot (which smells pretty great, actually), and... the brownies turned out great. I mean, delicious. Really! Rich, chocolate-y and the perfect thing with an ice cold glass of... milk. Like I said, I am not going vegan. But I'll eat their brownies!--S