Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: The Sweet Stuff of Sides--A Salad and a Rice

Many have asked about my salads and sides, and so here you have it...or some of it, anyway. Let's start with the salad:

Those who know me know that I'm a big sweet meets savory fan in many areas, and I think--at least in the salad department--I've created some converts!

The contrast of flavors and textures is also a key component in the salad. This one, which, my friends, is even good a day later, is a winner IF you like bleu cheese! (And if you don't, well, there's a whole wide world of cheeses that could go well here...including fresh mozzarella, Jarlsberg, and more!).

So, here are the components:
Frisée lettuce
Mixed baby greens
Persian cucumbers (smaller, sweet--and can be served with skin on!)
Gala apple
Fuji apple
Crumbled bleu cheese
Light balsamic vinaigrette

The important thing is to add the apple and bleu cheese not too long before serving.

Okay--moving on to sides. So, as I mentioned before, I had a few shrimp left over from gambas al ajillo from Saturday night's dinner. Here were my next ingredients to play with: cilantro on hand (sorry non-cilantro fans, but you know flat leaf parsley is an option!), red onion (always!), basmati rice, chicken broth,  and some frozen sweet corn.

So, first I made my rice: I sautéed a half a red onion in a bit of olive oil with a sprinkle of salt. I added 2 cups of rice, and tossed to coat. Then I added 4 cups of chicken broth (I had some--but homemade is always first choice!) and let cook (covered!) for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, I caramelized the corn; I heated olive oil and a bit of butter, add the corn, and let those little kernels get nice and golden (honestly I could just eat them by themselves; I am a huge corn fan...). Then I just cut up the shrimp, and the fresh cilantro. I added that, along with the caramelized corn, tossed a bit, and served!

Both sides worked well with the main dish, Grilled Boneless Pork Chops, and I'm sure could work with many others!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Grilled Boneless Pork Chops Topped with Apple-Cider-Caramelized Onions

Sunday’s Menu:

Frisée, red leaf, and mixed baby greens, cucumber, apple, bleu cheese salad, topped with a light pear-white balsamic vinaigrette

Assorted Roasted Vegetables: Fingerling Potatoes, Assorted Peppers, Broccoli and Cauliflower

Basmati rice with roasted corn, shrimp, sautéed red onion, and cilantro

and today’s recipe:

Marinated and grilled boneless pork chops, topped with a an apple-cider caramelized onion and Dijon mustard sauce

Basically I wanted to make something that this crowd (my Sunday dinner group this week!) would like—and was taking advantage of the fact that they’re all carnivores, and was thinking about what I had in my fridge (lots of apples, lettuces, peppers, apple cider, left-over shrimp from cooking gambas al ajillo on  Sat night…and more!).  I bought my bread and pork chops, and went to work: I marinated the pork chops for a few hours (super light—oil, honey balsamic, salt and pepper), and then grilled ‘em up (love the grill!).  The results were quite good! Let me know if you make them—and how you like them! (AND, though I didn't make this (Semisweet Chocolate and Coffee Brioche!) for would make a dreamy finish!) 

This is before adding the toasted nuts and parsley! 

Grilled Pork Chops with Apple-Cider-Caramelized Onion Sauce

Serves 8 to 10

About 12 boneless pork chops (on the thick side!)
Olive oil
Honey or white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
2 large red onions, coarsely chopped
Apple cider
White wine
Dijon mustard
1 cup raisins
Toasted almonds
Parsley for garnish

Place the chops in a shallow glass dish (for marinating!) . Whisk together about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 of vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the chops. Cover and refrigerate them.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce! In a medium-size sauté pan, heat about 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to soften, about two minutes. Start adding about 1/2 cup of apple cider to the onions, and let the cider absorb, stirring from time to time. Once it’s absorbed, add some white wine and let that soak in. Continue the apple cider adding-absorbing, until the mixture is almost a “relish” of soft onions. Add more apple cider and heat through (this time you’re not going to let it absorb!). Add the Dijon mustard to taste, the raisins, and correct the seasoning. Set aside.

Heat the grill to medium high. Remove the pork chops from the marinade and grill until well cooked, about 7 minutes on each side (actually I had my timing off, so my chops went from grill to oven…but I topped them with the sauce, and covered them, until I was ready to serve!).

Just before serving, add the toasted almonds and parsley. Be sure to have a ladle on hand to add sauce to the individual chops! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Thinking about Sweet Stuff...Like Warm Chocolate!

Maybe it’s the Arctic north weather that we’re experiencing here in New York (okay, yes, I know it’s January!), but seems like my desire for all things sweet is going up...especially warm chocolate-coffee treats.

So, my friends, today I’m sharing one of my top ten dessert recipes. This one comes from my dear friend, Chef Rafael Palomino, and was published in our latest collaborative effort: Latin Grill.
Semisweet Chocolate and Coffee Brioche Bread Pudding from Latin Grill--Photo by Dan Goldberg  

I remember when I was doing my recipe testing with this one. It was springtime (ah, remember spring?!), and my house was filled with the wafting aroma of chocolate. Freshly baked, warm, and served nestled against fresh vanilla ice cream, I was smitten...and dying to share it with someone, but nobody was in my house!  So I ran outside, and called on my lovely back-door neighbor, Katie.
 “Katie,” I called breathlessly, “you MUST try this!”

And, being the good neighbor and food lover that she is, she acquiesced!  After one bite, Katie—like me—was in love.

Semisweet Chocolate and Coffee Brioche Bread Pudding

Makes about 8 servings

2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated, 1/2 pound (half a pound bag) of semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vanilla
5 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup coffee liqueur
1/2 loaf brioche, about 8 ounces, or 4 rolls, torn or sliced into bite-size pieces (or challah bread, crust removed and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces)

In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and chocolate, and cook, stirring frequently, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Let cool slightly.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the eggs with the sugar and whisk together. Add the chocolate mixture and the coffee liqueur. Continue whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Ladle the mixture over the brioche and let stand, covered loosely, at room temperature for at least 1 hour. (You also have the option of covering and chilling the bread mixture overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 325º F. Butter an 8-inch baking pan. (You can also bake this pudding in individual ramekins, but the cooking time will be shorter, about 25 minutes.)

Put the baking pan in a larger pan so you can make a bath; add enough hot water to the larger pan to reach halfway up the sides of the baking pan. Bake the pudding in the middle of the oven until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. (But begin checking doneness after 50 minutes.) Serve the pudding warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sunday Dinners: go Out for Dinner

Time is relevant. More and more I feel like time can be measured in so many different ways: usually I have a daily checklist of work-related things to get done, and time seems to fly by...Then there are the month-long goals, and new year's resolutions. And then, as I've mentioned before, there are those magical three-in-one days, in which there are so many rich and wonderful things that occur, that time seems to be extended. Such was the case for me this weekend.

Immediately after work on Saturday, I hit the road and drove out to Long Island to spend time with my long-time and very dear friend, Virginia.

Upon arrival, we started our evening out. After enjoying  cold Newcastle Brown Ales, sipped while dining on mussels and fries (ah...always a favorite combo!)  at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett, we danced to live music at The Stephen Talkhouse.

And then came Sunday...
We went to the beach, and wow, I was reminded that in any season, the ocean is magical. The sound of the waves, the reflection of the sun on the water, the sweet-smelling wind, gorgeous shells nestled in the sand, all add up to something that fills my soul...

The day continued: Cappucinos and panninis at Sant Ambroeus (both were heavenly), a walk and a rest later, we were ready for evening adventures.

Now you know that I usually cook on Sundays, so this was a big departure for me...and no, it wasn't related to football. This Sunday I had the pleasure of being taken to dinner in Sag Harbor, at  The American Hotel, a cozy and warm restaurant with great service (and a fire place--and, oh, the bartender makes fabulous Manhattans!). Creamy kale soup, scallops with green beans, purée of beets, and mashed potatoes...with a glass of pinot noir = dreamy.

This was followed by flourless chocolate cake, and port. Ah, what a fabulous combo: rich and embracing...

Of course fabulous company makes any dinner more delicious!
With Virginia at The American Hotel!

Back home in New Rochelle, I'm ready to conquer this week's list (which includes finalizing a couple of things for Friday night's Don Coqui cooking class--AND trying to recreate the kale soup we enjoyed on Sunday evening!).  Despite the fact that this one is filled with serious bunch of to dos, it all feels so much  more manageable after enjoying a bit of time away; enjoying time bien acompañada (well accompanied!)  is one of life's greatest luxuries.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Reasons to Love Salads, Part 3

Some of you may catch my reference... For some reason, Ian Dury and the Blockheads' Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3 (one, two three!)  is resonating with me as I write.

Baby greens, apple, toasted pecans and more...

Okay, reasons to love salads, part 3: they're such fun to create (that may be part of parts 1 and 2!).

This salad was made with what I had around: toasted pecans, crisp Gala apples, baby spinach and a few other baby greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Top all with a light vinaigrette, and it's a fabulous complement to a variety of dinners (actually that night I served it alongside two types of raviolispinach and cheese topped with a super quick sausage and pepper sauce (hmmm...have to share that recipe).

More salads to come...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Spanish-Style Shrimp with Garlic (Gambas al Ajillo)

If you love shrimp, garlic, and wine, you can't go wrong with this tasty treat. My recent trip to Barcelona reminded me of how much I love this dish, which is a classic Spanish "tapa" or small plate.
And so, I was inspired...

Though Gambas al Ajillo can certainly be a stand-alone dish, I knew I had a main course for my sunday dinner  (ah--a wonderful dish: Argentine Hominy Stewwhich we'll be making in my January 25th cooking class at Don Coqui!), and just wanted this as a kind of first course. 

Gambas al Ajillo can certainly be beautifully served in small, Spanish Terracotta dishes, but I chose to serve itas you can seeon a small bed of mixed baby greens. The contrast of textures (and colorsand flavors!) worked out well. AND you could still do some bread dipping which, after all, is one of the most attractive attributes of this dish! (So yes! Make sure you have your favorite, crusty bread for dipping!)

Another attribute? It's simpleyet so elegant and tasty. Since I'm into brunches these days, I'm thinking that this, along with perhaps a tortilla española, served with sips like sangría, (I can show you another one here, from Telemundo, but in Spanish!) or some sangrita (or banderitas!) would be great Sunday midday fare. Would love to hear your ideas!

Gambas al Ajillo

Serves about 6 as a tapa

1 pound peeled and deveined medium-size shrimp (25 count to a pound)--They can be cooked with the shells on, but I take them off...but leave the tails on.
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (optional!) hot pepper flakes
About 2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3 ounces dry sherry (or white wine)
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook just until the garlic starts to brown.

Raise the heat a bit, and add the shirmp, lemon juice, sherry, and paprika. Stir frequently, and cook until the shrimp are cooked (don't overcook them or they'll be rubbery!). Season as desired, transfer to plates, sprinkle with parsley and pour sauce on top. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: The Beauty of the Winter Salad, Part 1

Salads have been the object of my culinary affection for quite some time. Who can resist, after  all, the opportunity to play with all kinds of greens, different textures and flavors, and different toppings? Wintertime presents a different kind of challenge as far as what to incorporate into the mix. If you're like me, you look to your salad to bring back that summertime sparkle. The great news is that well, my friends, it's right in front of us. 
As you’ve heard me say (write!) before, it’s all about the balance of flavors, textures, and colors. With so many wonderful winter fruits around, combining these different elements is a joy.  Last Sunday’s salad was no exception.
At once sweet and spicy, tender and crunchy, Bosc pears  are a welcome addition to salad. I paired them with clementines (also around!), so baby mesclun, dill, some romaine, and some chicory. Topped all with a light olive oil and pear balsamic vinaigrette. The flavors all worked together nicely…
I'm still playing with my foodalwaysand will continue to share my wintertime salad creations. Would love to hear your ideas, too! 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Chicken "Mole" (MO-lay) and more!

Last night was a special Sunday dinner: it was my husband's birthday dinner, and my son's last dinner at home before returning for his spring semester at college. So, in an effort to please all palates, I created the following menu:

Chimichurri Marinated-Grilled Skirt Steak (one of Seth's favorites!)
Chicken with Mole Sauce (new for several!)
Gallo Pinto-- (one of Wes's favorites!) 
Leafy Green Seasonal Salad (stay tuned for Wednesday's post!)
Mocha Cake and Icing

The result? Well, I got lots of great feedback! Here I'm sharing my recipe for's a "different" kind of sauce for many non-Mexicans (or many who live outside the mole-frequent zones!). 
I think of mole sauce (pronounced MOL-ay!) as kind of a cousin of chimichurri and pesto: it’s part condiment/part sauce, and it’s  made differently in different areas of Mexico (though primarily in Oaxaca and Puebla). I first tried it when I was just 16 (okay, not that long ago...she lied!!!), but it wasn't love at first bite. Actually I think that when I started working in a Mexican restaurant (Pancho Villa's--when I was 18!), I started to really enjoy it. 
My favorite moles have three of the ingredients here: chiles, almonds, and chocolate. This sauce has a lot of room for flexibility; you can make it much spicier, and or sweeter, depending on your taste. THIS one is a bit spicier (I lightened up on the chiles because it was for my parents and father-in-law who, I have to say, all liked it, and wouldn’t have with too much kick!). You can also use dry pasillas, rehydrate them, and remove the stems/seeds before puréeing.

As far as serving, you could combine it with grilled veggies, of course. But I generally use it as a pre-baking “bath” for my chicken—as I did last night—and also for blanketing my roasting chicken.  So, since I was cooking for just 9 last night (and also made skirt steak and gallo pinto!), I used to it cook about 16 boneless chicken thighs (yes—lunch and/or dinner today, too!). When you do use it to roast chicken, add some toasted almonds on top—as well as some cilantro for garnish!

AH—and, local residents, you have yet another option! I’ve found really nice pre-made sauces in Port Chester (but made in Yonkers!). One is calle “El Autentico Mole Poblano, Tuzantlan (290 Main Street, Yonkers, NY 10701-914 316 9572).  All you need to add is some chicken broth (and maybe more chocolate, sugar, and salt), and you’re set!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Chicken Parmesan (Posted on a Thursday!)

And now it's 2013~ I apologize for the break--but am back now!

After what felt like days and days of cooking and eating (Christmas Eve sit down dinner for 32, breakfast for 24, Christmas Day dinner for 24+--and on and on until last weekend, when most of the 13 people in my home left!), for some crazy reason, I started craving chicken parmesan. Funny thing is, it wasn’t until Sunday, which, okay, was also my birthday, that I realized how quickly I could make it!

For 12 people (and next-day lunch!), I made two of these trays...
I guess it was the combination of cheese, tomato, breadcrumbs and chicken that I craved…but there’s something (for those of us who eat those things!) that’s so comforting about it. I had some sauce still left from the previous Tuesday—and ran to shop early Sunday. So, when I arrived home on Sunday eve at 5:30 ish (after a GREAT Broadway-preview play: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof –but that is a different story!), I could “throw it together” relatively quickly!

Here, my friends, is the recipe. Hope you enjoy it!  

Chicken Parmesan 
Serves 12 to 15

Four pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves or tenders
3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (I buy mine from a local bakery---but you can use Italian bread ground in a food processor)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup  freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup (about) all purpose, unbleached flour
Olive oil
4 cups  tomato sauce (I use sauce I make--with and without sausage; excellent quality sauce is key….)
3 cups sliced well-drained fresh water-packed mozzarella  (you can, of course, vary the amount according to what you like!)
Fresh chopped basil leaves (optional)

Place chicken breast halves and/or tenders between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Using a  rolling pin (or meat mallet), pound chicken breasts to 1/3-inch thickness.  

Mix the bread crumbs with about 2 tablespoons of parsley, and the same of grated Parmesan cheese.

Set up the batter: I use Pyrex pie dishes (They’re the perfect deepness and size!) Spread the flour into one of them. Whisk the eggs together and pour into one of the dishes; spread breadcrumbs on the other.  Coat both sides of chicken with flour, then eggs, then the breadcrumbs.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add chicken to skillet and cook until brown, about 2 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed (chicken will not be cooked through). Transfer the chicken to platter. Spread about 1 cup of sauce over the bottom of two baking dishes. Arrange 1 layer of chicken over the sauce in each pan. Spoon about 2 cups of sauce on top.   Add the mozzarella. Bake until cheeses melt and chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley (and/or basil) and more Parmesan or Pecorino Romano as desired. Serve immediately. (And, if you have any left over, this makes a GREAT next-day sandwich…)