Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: Pork Chops with Mango, Blood Orange, Onion, and Grainy Mustard Sauce

Many of you know that in my "other" life, I'm an ESL nerd (English as a Second Language!), and that I do workshops/presentations--and even write books on the topic! Well, one of my ESL specialties is writing which, my students have heard me say a bazillion times, is not unlike cooking.

Stay with me here!

So, when I talk to teachers, and try to help them to help their students conquer this oh-so-difficult task of generating ideas, organizing them, and then putting them forth in a piece of writing, I often talk about  the "scaffolding" of steps.

Still with me? If so, you can probably see where I'm going: the scaffolding of ideas/steps in writing could be compared with those in creating a dish. And so, my friends, the sauce for the dish I am sharing here was born.

Dinner of Roasted Pork Chops topped with a Mango-Blood-Orange-Mustard Sauce, Baby Spinach and Tomato Salad, Gallo Pinto, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Many of you also know that blood orange has been on my mind! I used it in creating the Caribbean Cosmopolitan I shared on Latin Twist, and on Telemundo before that! Well, my love affair continues...After being enhanced by tasting blood orange marmalade (check out the  marmalades here!), my playing with this fruit continues! 

Here I'm not sharing a recipe, but rather some ingredients that you can combine for a sauce, according to your liking, and to what you'll serve it with! So here they are:

Red onions 
White wine
Mango nectar
Blood orange juice
Whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper
Cilantro (or, if you're not a cilantro fan, flat leaf parsley)

The only thing I would tell you is that you should scaffold: sauté the onions in olive oil and then, once, they start to soften, add the white wine. After that's absorbed, add the mango and orange juices (and let thicken), and then add the mustard....and then salt and pepper. And finally, finish with the cilantro. Serve on top of grilled or roasted meats, fish, chops, or roasted turnips/potatoes....the list goes on! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Peruvian Peppered Chicken (Ají de Gallina)--and The Comfort Food Thing!

Maybe it's the season, or maybe it's the fact that life has just starting going so quickly that it's hard to keep up. But, whatever the reason, it seems that comfort foods are what I crave these days. Throw in my last week's Peruvian-themed lunch and subsequent post for Latin Twist, and the result is my yen for  Peruvian comfort food. And that brings me to today's recipe: Ají de Gallina.

It was definitely in Peru where I first tried this dish; I was staying at my friend Cynthia's and I remember that—like so many other first-time flavors I was sampling—this was really tasty. But the big difference with this one was that there was that additional comfort element! (Could be because of the Saltine-thickened sauce?! Which, by the way, is always under debate: many people will tell you you must use bread instead of Saltines!)

 I first documented the recipe when I was working on Viva la Vida with Chef Rafael Palomino (ah, way back in 2002!).  Since then, I've made it on several occasions, and always with great results (happy customers!).

This home-style Peruvian dish is quite different from many others that hail from there; it's a chicken/rice based dish, topped with a creamy pepper sauce (that can be turned up or down!). Hearty, warm, and cozy, this dish is perfect on chilly days, and perfect for larger crowds (simply double amounts!).  ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!

Peruvian Pepper Chicken—Ají de Gallina

Adapted from Viva la Vida, by Rafael Palomino and Arlen Gargagliano ©2002

Serves 6

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, preferably free range
Kosher salt
1 ají mirasol, a teaspoon of ají amarillo (sold in jars in Latin American markets) or one guajillo, Mexican dried chile , or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust according to your liking!)
1 twelve-ounce can of evaporated milk
1 package (check ounces) of saltines, crumbled into small pieces
6 ounces of Queso Tropical (white cheese sold in Latin American markets) or  mild  feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small chunks
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (or Peruvian palillo, sold in Latin American markets)
Peruvian or Kalamata olives and cilantro leaves for garnish

In a medium-size saucepan (large enough to fit the chicken and plenty of water) with about 4 to 6 cups of water and one teaspoon of salt, simmer the chicken breasts over medium heat until they’re cooked through (about 20 minutes). Remove the chicken from the water, but don’t discard the water (you will use it).  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it, using your hands, into thin 1/4 to 1/2- inch long pieces. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine the ají, evaporated milk, saltines and cheese and mix until puréed. Set aside.

In  a medium-saucepan, heat the canola oil over a medium flame.  Add the onion and turmeric and stir. When the onions soften (about 3 minutes), add the creamed mixture from the blender and stir. Turn the flame to low. Stir in  the chicken, followed by about two cups of the caldo, or water that you cooked the chicken in. The mixture will be quite soupy at first, but it will thicken after a while. Stir frequently, and add more caldo as needed. After between 8 and 10 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken. Turn off the heat and taste. Correct seasoning, and serve with plenty of white rice, topped with several Peruvian olives.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday Food Musings: Banana Bread...Still Loving It~!

It's funny but when I mention banana bread, it seems like everyone has their own tale about it!

For me, banana bread is one of those things that conjures up memories of my childhood...and it's a definitely a comfort food and perfect for breakfast/brunch, or an afternoon treat along with a nice café con leche!  My momwho still loves hers toasted with cream cheesemade banana bread regularly, for years. In fact, my first versions were just like hers. But in recent years, I've changed it up a bit. Purists (!) may object, but I now have Kahlúah, toasted pecans, and raisins in the mix... However you make it, the key is using very ripe bananas (and, of course, you don't want the bread to be dry!). Hope you'll tryand enjoythis interpretation!

Arlen's Banana Bread

Makes one loaf

1 cup Turbinado sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
4 very ripe bananas
½ cup raisins (optional)
½ cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon Kahlúa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan.
Cream the sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Mix in the Kahlúa, vanilla, cinnamon, raisins, and pecans.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Add the banana mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and stir until combined. Add dry ingredients, mixing just until the flour disappears.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove bread from pan, invert onto rack and cool completely before slicing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Dinners: Costa Rican-style Black Bean Dip

Yes, canned beans are great in a pinch, but oh...there's nothing like the real thing!

Every time I make beans, I remember how much I love them. That luscious earthy flavor, with broth flavorful enough to sip on its own, I say to myself, "wow, THIS is the stuff!"

So this weekend, when I was making Gallo Pinto, I remembered this dip, which I also learned thanks to the Gutiérrez-Vargas family! I've got it in Mambo Mixers, but changed it up a bit. Actually on Friday night I soaked a kilo of black beans (yes, a kilo!); on Sunday, when making the Costa Rican-style rice and beans,  I used about 2 cups less than a pound. Those two cups became the black bean dip (and the rest of the beans are in the freezer!)  
Black Bean Dip with Assorted Chips

The nice thing about this dip is that it's super simple (so if you do have "sudden" guests, this is one you can pull together in a pinch!) and it's a great condiment. For example, you can use it as a tortilla spread before adding fresh tomatoes and cheeseor whatever you'd like! Ah, this would be nice with carnitas, too! It would be great on top of grilled chicken. Hmmmm, I'm going to try that in one of my Cuban sandwich variations. You see? Once you start building, the sky's the limit...

So back to this one, here's my recipe which, as always, can vary depend on what you've got on hand and what you like! 

Costa Rican Refried Black Beans
(Adapted from Mambo Mixers©2005, Arlen Gargagliano) 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced jalapeño (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (or to taste)
2 cups black beans, undrained and puréed
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan. Sauté the onion, pepper, garlic, jalapeño, and salt for about 5 minutes or until the onion has softened. Cook over a low flame, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with fresh cilantro just before serving. (You can also, as I wrote in Mambo Mixers, add queso fresco on top.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Midweek Food Musings: With Chef Kelly Corcoran at Bar'Lees!

With Chef Kelly at Bar'Lees in Mamaroneck

When I lived in Spain (decades ago!), I became fond of many expressions; one of them is,  ¡El mundo es un pañuelo!,   This means that the world is so small (like a handkerchief!). Recently—and more and more—I feel the smallness of the world, and wow, I like it!

So here’s an example: before I went to live in Spain, I worked at a local on-the-water bar here in New Rochelle called Dudley’s Parkview. Dudley’s was one of those places that we could always go to find friends (back in those days, the drinking age was 18 so we were hanging out there as youngsters, practically!). Working there was an adventure—in many respects—and always a lot of fun.

AND it was there that I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Corcoran, my featured chef of the day!

Chef Kelly and I worked together for a couple of summers and then, as typically happens in life, lost touch: She moved to France for culinary school in Paris, and then to Switzerland before coming back to New York. And though we didn’t really see each other much, we caught glimpses/heard stories every once in a while.

Fast forward to last summer, when we were together at a party and shared ideas related to food, running restaurants. Fast forward to NOW, and, well, Kelly’s there: two months ago she opened her first restaurant, Bar’Lees in Mamaroneck! (By the way, Bar’Lees in an Australian expression and I encourage you to ask about it when you visit!)

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Bar’Lees several times now, and each time it’s been just great! Kelly, her partners Colin Goundrey and his wife (both of whom hail from Australia), as well as all the staff members, are lovely and warm; you will immediately feel welcomed there.  The bar—which features a lovely assortment of wines (and, my friends, so check out their wine tasting schedule!  Went to one and it was just great—I will definitely be back for more!) and whiskeys, and more. Ah—I had a Rye Manhattan, and that was dreamy (I’ll be back for another of those, too!).  Actually I think that Dennis, wonderful bartender, called it the Norma Jean.

But all this background brings me back to Chef Kelly and her food, which, my friends, is way beyond your standard pub grub.  I encourage you to try her pizzas (so fresh, so perfect!), her perfectly spiced warm nuts, her tacos, as well as her hummus and baba ganoush (wow!).  I’ll be back to sample more menu items, for sure.

So, about Kelly's background. She had always wanted to be in the restaurant business, and had worked in one kind or another since she was 13, but originally thought she'd be in the front of the house. In fact she said she decided to learn how to cook, " if my chef ever decided to walk out on the business, I could take over!" As it turns out, she liked the kitchen best, and so, well, that's where she stayed!

I asked Kelly how she met her partner. She said, she had recently moved back to Elkan Road in Larchmont after living in NYC for a lot of years and that they met on her street. Kelly continues,"Colin knew I had a food background and he shared with me his dream of opening a wine and whiskey bar." At the point of their discussion, she was looking for something different, and, well, their interests came together and his she continues, "I was looking for a new opportunity and Colin, being a wine and whiskey guy, was looking for someone to help him with the food and we kind of really clicked." Ah--the evidence, which you'll get from one visit to Bar'Lees, is proof of that! 
Some other Q's and A's: 
AG: Where do you get your menu inspiration from?
KC: From various things I've cooked before. I love the NY Times dining section, eating out, and seeing what looks good in the market

AG: What are your favorite dishes?
KC: I'm a big braising fan.  Anything slow cooked is a favorite.

AG: What advice do you give to people who are reluctant cooks, but who aspire to being better in the kitchen? 
KC: I think that anyone who wants to improve in the kitchen can learn a lot from the many cooking shows on TV. My niece, who didn't grow up in a cooking household and helps me in the kitchen at Bar'Lees, claims she knows nothing about cooking, but can spout off these pretty specific cooking terms and knows quite a few kitchen techniques from watching reality TV cooking shows.


And so, my friends, back to the small world theme, I have to say that I'm so proud to catch up with this chef, and see Kelly having realized her restaurant dream, which is one that's very much on my horizon as well. (We old friends, foodies, and small business owners need to support each other)

Also, if you have your own questions for Chef Kelly, I encourage you to ask her. But first and foremost, try her fare and the some of the wonderful drink Bar'Lees has to offer, as well as their tasting events and more, and do let me know how you like all!