Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Pastrami Story

If sandwiches are your thing, I bet you would find an authentic pastrami sandwich from a good New York deli to be a truly memorable experience.  One such sandwich made a profound impression on my husband on our last visit there - a full three years ago.  He's been pining for it ever since and decided that - since our kiddos/budget/job/life preclude us from frequent jaunts to the City - he was just going to figure out how to make one for himself.  I thought to myself, what a fun idea!  I didn't realize at the time that the fun idea was actually a rather involved and complicated eight day project.  Yes, I said eight.  No wonder those sandwiches are so good.  The first step is curing the beef brisket in an herb/spice mixture for a few days (with a turn required every 12 hours), then rinsing it, then cold-drying it in the fridge, then rubbing it again, then smoking it, then steaming it, then chilling and slicing it thin.  I mean, seriously?

I take no credit for all of this effort, as I was a mere bystander (and lucky taste tester) on this quest for deliciousness.  But even when I'm not responsible for the prep, I am excited to chat about it and give props to the responsible party.  Way to go, Ryan!! The result was a gorgeous, smoky, intensely flavored, though not quite as tender as intended (you can bet he's going to try it again), pastrami that we piled onto the requisite seedless rye bread with deli mustard and enjoyed immensely.  We thought a deli-type side dish like potato salad would be an appropriate accompaniment; however, I am generally not too roused by the mayo-laden version commonly available.  I located this fab recipe that just screams of acid with vinegar, capers and cornichon, and thought it would be perfect.  Adding a further dimension of complex goodness was the grilling of the potatoes as opposed to the standard boiling.   It was exquisite, and I will store it in my pocket for the future.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Goodies

Whether for gift giving, indulging, or the sheer festivity of the preparation, goodies at Christmastime are just the best.   Here is a sampling of some of the feel good yumminess that has added cheer to our holiday thus far:

Oreo Truffles

These heavenly morsels are no more than Oreos mashed with cream cheese and dipped in chocolate.  But they somehow feel decadent and kind of fancy.  They are lovely to be given as gifts and can be decorated in lots of ways.  My sister-in-law gave me this technique (its simplicity deems ineligibility for the "recipe" designation) years ago, and we've made them countless times ever since! 

I've referenced these little guys before, but here's the scoop:  Grind an entire bag of Oreos in a food processor until fine.  Add 8 oz of cream cheese, and process until the mixture becomes a uniform black "dough".  Scoop balls of the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt whatever kind of chocolate chips you like slowly in the microwave.  Then dip the balls in the chocolate and allow to set on parchment/wax paper/foil.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

All chocolate chip cookies are not created equal!  I won't pretend that mine hold a torch to so many marvels out there - my friend Allison's are insane, to name one.   But I can articulate what defines an awesome version of this classic in my book:  crispy outside, gooey (so not cakey) and slightly underdone inside, generous quantity of chocolate chips, and the slightest hint of salt on the end of a bite.  I know that last one is kind of weird, but man is it good.  Perhaps the two most important steps, I believe, are 1) ensuring that the butter is both unsalted and fully brought to room temperature, and 2) fluffing the flour so to not overmeasure.  These are a tad picky, but I have found that the texture is seriously affected by these ingredients.  The recipe I use - and tweak just a tad - is old school Betty Crocker.

3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted, room temperature butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I am hooked on Madagascar Bourbon)
1 extra large egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp plus a pinch kosher salt
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips (or whatever!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Sift flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat sugars and butter together until creamed.  Add vanilla and egg, and beat again until thoroughly combined.  With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined - don't overmix.  Add the chips and give the mixer a couple more turns to incorporate.  Scoop with a 1-inch cookie scoop onto a silpat lined baking sheet, and bake for 8 minutes until the edges are just golden brown, and the inside is total goo.  Let them set up on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before trying to move them to a cooling rack.

Peppermint Marshmallows 

Why would someone bother making marshmallows when there are countless, perfectly tasty ones available conveniently pre-bagged at the store?  Well, because it's fun and completely festive.  Please note I do not make homemade marshmallows a rule at my house.  If I did, I'd ask someone to smack me.  But the holidays are different and warrant some special treatment to me. 

I don't think I ever really pondered how the marshmallow came to be, but if you find yourself giving this a go, hopefully you'll be as entertained and interested as I was.

I start with Barefoot's homemade marshmallow recipe, which is found after the toasted coconut (also delightful, by the way) discussion on the link below.  In lieu of vanilla extract, I use about a teaspoon of peppermint extract.  After it's smoothed into the pan for setting, I disperse a few drops of red food coloring, and then perform a Marth-done-proud completely amateur job of marbelizing with a wooden skewer.  Quick user note: dip your knife in warm water before attempting to cut these babies, and this experience will be far more enjoyable.  I learned the hard way.


This treat occurred on Christmas night after our our fam took a post-dinner walk in the snow.  My husband peeled off the kids' snow pants (to reveal the same jammies they slept in the night prior...I'm not ashamed to admit that I was in the same state), while I prepared my fave hot chocolate on the stove. If you're wondering, there's no recipe here...just divine chocolate flakes from Williams-Sonoma whisked into hot milk.  We snuggled up with our cocoa with only the fireplace and Christmas tree to light our cups.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time Out!

Not the kid in the corner time-out, the mama is haggard and must take a breather time-out.  A simmering pot of goodness on the stove forces me to stop for a sec...really just because I have no choice when the most important ingredient to its success is patience.  The actual ingredients are mildly important too, but you know what I mean.   

Spaghetti with meatballs is a dish that warms you the whole way through, which is kind of convenient when it's 18 degrees outside.  After testing about a dozen variations of this combo over the years, I am pleased to report that I've found the keeper.  The meatballs have a wonderful texture and a delicious (and somehow subtle without being boring...does that make sense?) flavor.  I don't even recall from where I clipped the meatball recipe, and I've changed it a bit in my trials.  It's beautifully accompanied by Barefoot Contessa's sauce, which is rich and complex without being heavy. I am salivating as I type.  Here's the scoop:

Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti

Combine the following ingredients in a large bowl:

1 1/4 lbs ground turkey (85/15 is totally what you need here)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 extra large egg
16 saltine crackers, finely crushed

Shape the mixture into about 15 meatballs (1 1/2 inches or so each).  Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, and cook the meatballs until browned on all sides. 

Meanwhile, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add 1 cup of chopped vidalia onions, and cook until translucent, 8ish minutes.  Add 1 1/2 tsp of minced garlic, and cook for one minute more.  Add 1/2 cup red wine, and turn the heat to high.  Stir and cook until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Stir in one 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes in puree, 1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, and simmer on low for 30 minutes.  Serve with the al dente pasta of your choice, and don't hate on the Parm topping.

Not pictured but certainly not lacking (sorry for the double negative, Mom):  glorious garlic bread made by 1) slicing a ciabatta loaf lengthwise in half, 2) slathering it with butter, 3) adding a few dashes of garlic powder, a good dusting of an Italian dried herb blend, salt and pepper, and 4) toasting it until golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  I'll pretend this doesn't negate the health points I earned for using turkey in the meatballs.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken Stew with Biscuits

The holidays seem to beg a bit of indulgence, and this dish fits the bill quite perfectly.  It's just a slightly less fussy version of chicken pot pie.  Aside from being snuggly and utterly delicious for both adults and small people, this meal can be conveniently made ahead and also easily feeds a crowd. 

As I've mentioned before, though Ina's very existence cooking borders perfection to me, I maintain that she is a bit heavy handed with onions.  I reduce the quantity by nearly half in this recipe and find nothing lacking.  Another note: it's a good idea to put a cookie sheet on the lower rack to catch over flow drippings from this baking dish.  I forgot to do that this time, and I've already schmutzed up my new oven as a result.  Otherwise, the recipe is straightforward and seriously yummy.

For my less naughty friends, here's a healthy and very tasty idea: Skillet Gnocchi with Spinach and White Beans.  This is a satisfying meal that makes great leftovers.  I also love how the prep goes from start to finish in 30 minutes and only dirties one pan (hallelujah!). The stewed tomatoes weirded out my kids a little, so if you've got picky ones, you might want to dice them up a bit to camouflage them.  I substituted baby spinach for chard in the recipe and also was just a tad more generous with the Parm.  Hey, it's the holidays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Back in Action

I'm doing my happy dance because the kitchen is back in action!  I will post a pic when the finishing touches of the renovation are complete!  After being without a range for what felt like eternity, I was excited to break in the new one one with a totally tasty dish:  Asian Chicken Burgers with Plum BBQ Sauce.  This meal was born out of an appetizer recipe I found in Cuisine at Home years ago.  I first made it as an app and thought its deliciousness warranted a promotion to main course status.  Okay, so the prep is moderately unpleasant - unless you, for whatever reason, like the idea of dicing up boneless, skinless chicken thighs and grinding them up in a food processor.  I am asking for your trust that this is not a futile exercise; I am confident you will be super happy you did it.  The burger itself is surprisingly (chicken!) savory, flavorful and satisfying.  The sauteed pineapples and red peppers make a subtly sweet topper.  The sauce adds a scrumptious and tangy accent that leaves you with just the slightest bit of spice.  To convert this back to an app, just make the burgers smaller, skewer them with a piece of the pineapple and red pepper, and drizzle the sauce on top.

Asian Chicken Burgers with Plum BBQ Sauce

1/3 cup plum jam (if you can't find this, you can use plum sauce from the International aisle at the grocery store and scale back the rice vinegar just a pinch)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 Tbsp store bought BBQ sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1" chunks
1/2 cup chopped vidalia onion
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 egg white
Red bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
Fresh or canned diced pineapple
2 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions, optional

Simmer first five ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until thick, 7-8 minutes; keep warm.  Pulse chicken, onions, panko, seasonings and egg white together in a food processor until thoroughly combined.  Shape mixture into patties.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat, and brown patties until cooked through and transfer to a plate.  (I overcook them every time because I have a phobia about undercooking ground poultry...the fab news is that they're still delicious in this state!)  Saute bell pepper and pineapple until slightly caramelized.  Pile them around the burger, and then spoon the sauce over the top.

So while we're talking barbecue sauces, I'll share my hands-down favorite sauce, courtesy of Bobby Flay.  It has vinegar in the title, so naturally I freaked when I happened upon it.  The great part is that it requires no cooking!  You just zap everything together in a blender or (mini, if you've got it) food processor, and it's ready to go.  This sauce offers one of those scenarios where it takes serious control to avoid licking the plate.  Provided we're without company, I usually just do it anyway.  Anyway, this was one of the meals we prepared while sans stove.  Ryan grilled a spice rubbed flank steak while I assembled the sauce and served up some prepared tortellini salad from Whole Foods.  Aside: that salad is fiercely addictive with strips of zesty salami nestling among cheese-filled pasta, vinegar dressed olives, roasted red peppers and grated Parm.  Yum.  End aside. 

Sherry Vinegar Sauce

2 roasted red peppers, chopped OR 6 piquillo peppers, chopped
1/2 cup aged sherry vinegar
3 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp prepared horseradish, drained
2 Tbsp honey
1 tsp molasses
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

I'm just now realizing that this it not such a Christmasy post for December.  Let this not convey a lack of total giddyiness about the upcoming holiday!