Mad Hatter’s Chicken Salad

4.5.11 § 11 Comments

This past week I was so busy with a freelance job that I didn’t even have time to grocery shop (or blog, obviously). It was pretty awful, but yay, money! Thankfully I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so when I finally got tired of munching on ramen, I thawed a couple of those and poached them with some onions, celery, and carrot. I was planning to us the chicken in a quesadilla, but lo and behold, when I opened the refrigerator, there were no tortillas! (Story of my life.)

I had an apple on hand though, and I knew there were some cashews in the pantry, so I decided to make my all-time favorite chicken salad. It’s not exactly revolutionary, posting a recipe for chicken salad, but I had never had this version before I moved to Durham for college, and I love it, so I want to share it with you.

Even now, two years after graduating, I crave this sandwich, and I find myself improvising versions of this chicken salad all the time. It’s especially comforting when I’m swamped with work; I think it’s because when I was pulling all-nighters writing papers or studying for a test, the only break I’d often take was to nom on this sandwich from Mad Hatter’s.

Anyway, if you’re bored with your normal chicken salad routine, mix it up with this cashew-apple concoction. You might be a convert…

Cashew-Apple Chicken Salad
adapted from Mad Hatter’s Restaurant, Durham, NC

*This isn’t so much a recipe as a method. I think on things like tuna and chicken salad,  you’ve pretty much got to decide on your own ratios. Some people like more or less mayo, etc.

White meat from a chicken breast (you can use dark if you prefer, but for chicken salad I always use white)
Granny Smith or other tart apple
Cashews (I use salted for this, but you can use unsalted and then add salt if you like)
Scallions, roughly chopped (optional)
Juice from half a lemon
Dijon mustard (this time I used coarse grained, and I loved it!)

Either chop your chicken into bite-sized pieces, or use a fork to shred it if you prefer. Core your apple and cut it into small cubes. Throw the apple and a handful of cashews in with the chicken. If you’re using scallions, mix them in. Add mayonnaise just a spoonful at a time, mixing it in and adding more until you’ve got the right amount for you. Add a dollop of mustard (I use a large dollop) and then sprinkle the salad with salt and pepper. Squeeze your lemon over it and mix once more, until everything is incorporated.

If making a sandwich, slap the chicken salad on some bread with a slice or two of tomato and some lettuce, and you’re good to go!


Magic Cookies

3.24.11 § 10 Comments

This Christmas was rough. It was the first Christmas my mother and I spent without my grandmother, which was obviously going to be hard. On top of that, I think that every time the phone rang we were both terrified it would be someone calling to tell us that Ginnie was no longer with us. We had just gotten home from spending nearly a week with her in the hospital and we were in such a funk that we toyed with the idea of skipping Christmas completely, not even putting up the tree. When we finally did decide to put it up, we had such different ideas about where in the house to put it that both of us were reduced to tears. (I wanted to place it in the middle of the hallway that blocked the front door for two very sensible reasons: 1. It would be easy to sit by the fire and see the television and the tree at the same time, which is very important for movie-watching purposes. 2. It would keep out unwanted guests. (Did I mention we were having trouble being around people who weren’t über-depressed?))

Thankfully, we’re both able to laugh at ourselves and before I knew it we had gone from both of us crying about the stupid tree to both of us cracking up about how silly we were being. But then before I knew it we were bawling again, because Ginnie always helps decorate the tree. I think that’s the real reason we were stalling: we didn’t want to do it without her.

And all of the usual Christmas baking? I had ambitions. I made a long list of things to whip up, but then I didn’t feel much like whipping. I did actually start to make cranberry turtle bars, but after I made the shortbread base I let it sit on the table for a week without ever making a topping. Oh, and I made some gingerbread. The loaves caved in the middle.

It wasn’t until I came across Molly Wizenberg’s love letter to Cookie in my saved pages that I said, “You know what, mom? We have to make these. Because I have a feeling they’re magic and they are going to make us feel at least marginally better.” Okay, I didn’t actually say that. I think it was something more along the lines of, “Damn it, we are making these effing cookies because we haven’t baked anything and it is pissing me off!” Bake them we did. And I was right, they were kind of magical. They really were some of the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had, and there is definitely something to be said for comfort food when you’re depressed.

And so, earlier this week when I was feeling overwhelmed by life, I decided it was time to make them again. My friend Sally and I put the dough together on Tuesday night, and after the mandatory 36 hours of refrigeration, I baked them this morning. And now I have a new problem: there are 32 huge, salty, glorious chocolate chip cookies sitting in my kitchen, and they’re calling my name. Oops, make that 30…

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Orangette/The New York Times, David Leite, and Jacques Torres

*Molly recommended using a kitchen scale, but I don’t have one. Also, like Molly, I just used regular flour instead of cake and bread flours. Also, I hate trying to do kitchen math, so rather than combining the flour measurements to make it easy for my readers, I just did the two separately, which is kind of a pain in the ass, but the cookies are worth it. I promise.

2 cups minus 2 Tbsp. (8 ½ oz.) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 ½ oz.) bread flour
**If you’re me this was 2 cups minus 2 tbsp of flour, followed by 1 2/3 cups of…flour.
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups; 10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups (10 oz.) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (8 oz.) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks, preferably about 60% cacao content, such as Ghirardelli (I just used two full 11 oz. bags of the Ghiradelli chips, which is just over 1 ¼ pounds.)
Sea salt, such as Maldon

Combine your flour(s), baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Whisk well and set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Reduce your mixer speed to low and slowly add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. (I used my plastic guard that sits around the bowl of my mixer, but if you don’t have one, Molly suggests carefully holding a dish towel around the top of the bowl to keep flour from flying everywhere.) Add the chocolate chips, and mix briefly to incorporate.  (There are so many chocolate chips that it feels like the dough won’t come together. You must will it to come together! Haha, don’t worry.) Press plastic wrap against the dough, and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. (Molly says that the dough may be used in batches and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.)

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, and allow it to soften slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. (Really, you should use two baking sheets at a time if you can, because if not this will take forever.)

Using a standard-size ice cream scoop scoop six mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, making sure to space them evenly. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto the rack to cool a bit more.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Please let them cool before you try to eat them. I just burned my tongue on a chocolate chip…

Starting Small

3.22.11 § 18 Comments

So, I’ve been all about personal growth lately and I’d like to share something I’ve learned: start small. In a moments of panic when I feel like the world is closing in, which is happening all too often since I left SAVEUR, I have to take a deep breath and a step back and take on a task I know I can handle. Or at least that I hope I might be able to handle. Case in point: frying an egg. It’s something I never really learned how to do. (Funny how I am this “food blogger” who has such glaring gaps in knowledge. A day or two ago I actually had to call my mother to ask her if I should wrap a potato in foil or not before baking it in the oven. *Rolls eyes at self.* The answer is yes, wrap it in foil. Thanks, mom.)

Anyway, back to the point. Whenever I face a huge life change (moving to New York, looking for a job, leaving a job, etc), I tend to enter into a period of immense self-doubt characterized by near paralysis. In other words, up until yesterday when I was actually kind of productive (which only happened after the egg frying), the only thing I’ve accomplished since leaving SAVEUR two full weeks ago is finishing the entire Battlestar Galactica series. Yes, you read that right. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica.

So, after wrestling with this self-destructive behavior off and on for about three years now, I’ve finally figured out a little trick. When I start feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand (getting my life together), I try to pick something small and concrete to do. Because accomplishing something, anything, makes me feel better about myself, which makes it easier to be productive.

Unfortunately, while I did try to fry an egg, I still haven’t mastered it. That’s okay, because now I have something to work on. And my a-bit-too-fried egg was still delicious over some couscous with sauteed asparagus and cheese. If you also need some help frying an egg, look below for the instructions slightly adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. And if you want to read more about my self-destructive behavior, which I’m currently working on fixing, hop on over to Feministe, where I’ve written about it here and here in more detail.

Goal: Another blog post on Thursday. See? Now that I’ve put it out there, I kind of have to do it. Right?

Fried Eggs
adapted from The Art of Simple Food

Alice Waters says, “The key to frying eggs is finding the right pan–mine is a well-seasoned, 10-inch cast-iron pan–and taking care of it. Wipe it clean after you use it, or wash it with water if there’s any food stuck on it, but keep it out of soapy water and the dishwasher, and keep it dry.” I never really knew you should use a cast-iron, but I did this time, and it worked nicely.

Warm your cast-iron pan over medium heat. After a minute or so turn the heat to low and add a piece of butter or a splash of olive oil. (When I did this, I added a bit too much butter I think…) Swirl the pan around to cover the bottom with the melting butter or oil, then gently crack open the egg into the pan. Lightly salt and pepper the egg, cooking it until the white is almost completely set. Gently coax a spatula under the egg. (You’ll want a fairly large spatula to fit as much of the egg as possible.) With a smooth motion, turn the egg over in the pan without breaking the yolk; this is difficult with a slow-cooked egg because the yolk is still quite tender. Season the egg again with salt and pepper. For a very runny yolk, cook for just a few seconds more. For a firmer yolk, cook for another minute or so. For those who do not like their yolks the least bit runny, break the yolk just before flipping the egg over, turn off the heat, and allow the egg to be cooked until done by the residual heat of the pan.

Crack Pie

3.16.11 § 21 Comments

I know. The name is kinda scary. When people ask me, “Why is it called crack pie?” I get a bit frustrated, because with a name like that, I would think it’s pretty obvious. I have never tried crack, but if it’s even half as addictive as this pie, I can understand why people get hooked. (I also get a little frustrated when people ask what’s in it, because with a name like that, do you really think you want to know? No.)

I’ve only eaten the real crack pie, which comes from Momofuku Milk Bar here in NYC, once. I had gone on a dinner date to Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and when we sat down, dude said, “You know, I usually order everything I want to taste from the menu.” And in that moment, I had two thoughts. One: “Wow, I usually order only what I want to taste the very most because I’m broke and this shiz is expensive.” And two: “Dude knows the way to my heart and he is NOT playing around.” Needless to say, we had an amazing dinner, and just when I thought I was going to pass out from overeating, I was told we had to go next door to the attached Milk Bar to have crack pie. Pie was the last thing I wanted, but I rarely turn down food, so we had the crack pie. And it. Was. Awesome. We couldn’t finish it, so I tucked the last few bites in my purse and ate it the next morning for breakfast.
I haven’t been back to Momofuku Ssam or Milk Bar since that night, because I’m a little worried about my self restraint slash lack thereof (the pork buns are also to die for and I could easily eat about 20 of them, which would not be good). So, when I went to visit Boston this past weekend for my friend Merri’s birthday, I was beyond thrilled when she informed me we’d be making crack pie. Making it! At home! I actually didn’t believe that it could ever be as good as the real thing, but I was not disappointed. It was so good that after serving it at the birthday party on Saturday night, I found myself sitting on the couch Sunday morning, still wearing my party dress, and eating crack pie leftovers straight from the pan. With a plastic fork. What can I say? Breakfast of champions. Is anyone else noticing a trend?

So, without further ado, here’s the recipe. I recommend you make this when there are going to be some other people around, because if you do it when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you will eat the whole thing yourself. Not a good plan.

Crack Pie
Adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar NYC/Bon Appetit
*Note: If you’re going to make this, note that the crust must bake, then cool, and the filling then has to bake for nearly an hour, then cool for like two hours, then chill for a few more hours/overnight. It’s quite the process, but it isn’t hard, just time consuming!

Oat cookie crust:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
5 1/2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

For crust:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper and coat it with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes), scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Add the egg and beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended (about 1 minute). Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan and press it out evenly to edges of pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.

Using your hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl. Melt the remaining butter in a bowl or small saucepan, and add the butter and  1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar to the cookie mixture. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter pie dish. (A cake pan will work if you don’t have a pie dish.) Using your fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

For filling:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie for 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble). Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20-25 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.

Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.

Link Love

3.11.11 § 4 Comments

Hello all! I’ve always appreciated it when the people I enjoy reading share what they’re currently reading. Odds are, if they liked it, I’m going to like it as well. So, in that spirit, I thought I’d start posting a weekly link love of my own. Here are some things I’ve enjoyed reading this week:

Over on The Wednesday Chef, Luisa did a post about homemade bagels, and for the first time, I was like, “Hell yes! I need to make bagels at home!” Not sure when I’ll actually get around to it, but it’s definitely on my to-do list and you should put it on yours too.

And what will you serve with those homemade bagels? With this how-to over at The Kitchn, you can salt cure your own lox. This one really struck a chord with me as it was pretty much impossible to find lox in the town that I grew up in. I think you can probably buy it there now, but at least if not there’s now a contingency plan.

This one’s for my friend, Sally, and anyone else who gains immense satisfaction from cleaning. How to clean (and I mean REALLY clean) a wooden cutting board from The Art of Doing Stuff. You know, if you get board bored.

A duh-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that post at the Bitten Word tells us how to combat a cookbook buying problem. Those guys, so smart.

I can’t wait to make this tomato and cheese pie from SAVEUR, featured in the March issue’s Sicily article. (If you haven’t read the article, you should, it’s great!)

And last, but definitely not least, and not exactly related to food, this column from Sugar over at The Rumpus made me cry. It’s about helping those you love deal with grief, and it is something I think everyone should read. I’ve never lost a mother (thank God), but I can say that having lost a best friend recently, Sugar’s advice is some of the best I’ve seen.

Okay, guys, let me know if you like the link love or not, as it’s just something I’m playing with! Also, HAPPY WEEKEND!

Goodbyes and Hearts of Palm Fries

3.10.11 § 8 Comments

This is a true story. Almost one year ago, I was walking to the subway on my way to work when I realized I was walking next to James Oseland, editor-in-chief of SAVEUR magazine. I was so excited to see him that I reached out and touched his arm without pausing to think about how inappropriate this was. Then, to cover up for my inappropriate touching, I obviously had to start talking. Mr. Oseland was unbelievably gracious as I stumbled through my greeting, and long story short, about four months after that I had left my full-time job at a nonprofit and was working as an editorial assistant (read: glorified intern) at SAVEUR. For weeks I kept needing to pinch myself once or twice a day to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The position, which was originally slated to last only three months, somehow stretched into seven, and during that time, I had some really amazing experiences. I got to see how SAVEUR works, tasted some amazing creations from the test kitchen, and even tried my hand at writing a few short pieces for the magazine. The most exciting moment was when I inserted myself into a conversation I had been eavesdropping on (well, not eavesdropping exactly, the office is open so it’s kind of hard not to hear what’s being said), and before I knew it I had landed the responsibility of writing an article. Like, a real one. Not written in the third person!

Writing that article was the biggest learning experience of all. I was lucky to work with senior editor Betsy Andrews, who simultaneously scares me and inspires fierce respect. Somehow (I’m placing my bet on magic), she took my unpolished 600 words about hearts of palm and came out with 250 or so words that, what do you know, were exactly what I meant to say. While it’s weird to see a finished article that’s pretty different from what you wrote, I’m amazed and thankful for the amazing job that the SAVEUR editors do. And really, who cares if it’s exactly what I wrote?! Something of mine was in SAVEUR magazine! And boy howdy, I even got to handpick the accompanying recipe. (To me, choosing a recipe to be included in the magazine felt like a really big deal.)

I thought it only appropriate that on my last day at SAVEUR I should make that recipe, Hearts of Palm Fries, to go with my steak dinner. I was celebrating. I needed to celebrate because one year ago, if you’d told me I’d be coming off a seven-month stint at one of the most respected publications in the world of food, I would have called you crazy. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, because it’s they’re mostly a result of dumb luck. Well, and of my inability to keep from touching famous people on the street. Thanks to the SAVEUR team for taking me in and teaching me some tough lessons. It was an amazing ride.

PS – Please don’t ask me what I’m going to do next…because really? Hell if I know.

Hearts of Palm Fries with Spicy Chipotle Mayonnaise
adapted from SAVEUR
serves 4-6

*Making this for just myself, I cut the recipe for the mayo in half and cut the recipe for the fries themselves into like one quarter. I still had more than enough fries.

1 cup mayonnaise
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced and spooned sauce from the can
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
Canola oil, for frying
4 cups panko bread crumbs
2 cups flour
1 cup buttermilk
4 eggs
2 28-oz. cans hearts of palm, large pieces halved lengthwise
Kosher salt to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, chiles, lime juice, honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I just eyeballed my amounts, but if you make your nervous you can definitely measure. If you like your spicy mayo to be extra spicy, spoon some of the sauce from the can into the mayonnaise.** I highly recommend this. Set the mayo aside.

Pour oil into a saucepan that isn’t very big, because you’ll want 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil for frying.*** Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer (I don’t), the way to tell the oil is hot enough is by inserting a wooden spoon into the oil. If tiny bubbles come up around the edges like the spoon is frying, it means you’re good to go! Meanwhile, place bread crumbs and flour on 2 separate shallow plates and set both aside. Whisk together buttermilk and eggs in a medium bowl. Make yourself a little assembly line with a clean plate standing by. Working in batches, toss hearts of palm in flour until evenly coated, shaking off excess and then place them to the side. Once they are all floured, dredge them in the egg mixture. Next, lay them on the bread crumbs and toss to coat. Fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 2–3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel—lined plate to drain and immediately season with salt. Serve warm with chipotle mayo.

**When a recipe calls for chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, it usually only calls for one or two, and there are usually about 12 in a can. This is annoying. I’ve recently discovered that you can put the rest of the chiles and the sauce into a ziploc and stick it in the freezer. Just get them out the morning before you want to cook with them. This trick is awesome! Also, if you don’t know where to find chipotle peppers, they’re with the Mexican/Latin ingredients in the grocery store in a short, fat can.

***This is a lot of oil. I was really upset about having to waste this much oil, so I started googling, and I found out that you re-use oil. To get the panko crumbs out, I strained the oil through a coffee filter and then poured the clean oil back into its container. I’m going to refrigerate this. I’m not sure if it’s necessary or not, but someone on the internet said it was, so I’m thinking better safe than sorry.

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Radicchio, and Bagna Cauda

3.5.11 § 5 Comments

“When do you stop being just someone who cooks and start being someone who is more like a chef or who has the know-how to write your own recipes?” This was the question of the hour at my latest dinner party. *Note: Didn’t realize my camera lens was dirty. Sorry for the smudgy pictures!*

Last Thursday, I met up with Sofia for our first cooking date. You see, she and I are cyber friends. We met over the internet when she started commenting on my blog, and after about 8 months of reciprocal comments, tweets, etc., we decided we should be friends in real life. This is how the world works now I guess…welcome to the future.

Anyway, this is the question we were pondering as we finally sat down to dinner, and thankfully, it was very appropriate for the evening’s meal. You see, I’ve made (and even posted about) a version of this pasta before: Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Radicchio. And I’ve also made a slightly different pasta that I found over on The Wednesday Chef: Egg Pappardelle With Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg.

Unfortunately, I never posted about the version from Luisa’s website, because despite her proclamations of love for the dish, I wasn’t sold. I attribute this to a couple of things. First, I don’t really know how to fry an egg. I know, *eye roll.* Second, I really hated the bagna cauda that I made. For anyone who doesn’t know what bagna cauda is, the New York Times says:

Bagna cauda, also spelled bagna caôda, means “hot bath.” The bath — olive oil — is gently warmed with garlic cloves and anchovies until the oil is scented, the garlic is softened, the anchovies are dissolved and tamed. Essentially, it’s Italian dip.

The first time I made bagna cauda was the first time I had ever touched an anchovy. It was a big step for me because, like many people in my age group, I was taught at a young age by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that anchovies are gross. And it’s kind of true. They have these tiny little bones sticking out of them that are thin enough they look like hairs. It’s totally fine to eat them, but I was not prepared for this and got really skeeved out during the cooking process. Combine that with my inability to make a good fried egg, and by the time dinner was ready, I was not all that excited.

Sofia being a champ and preparing the butternut squash, which is one of the jobs I hate most in the whole world.

However, I had a chance to try bagna cauda again in a restaurant kitchen, and it was delicious! So, when I was attempting to pick a recipe for Thursday night’s shindig, I considered making Luisa’s recipe once more, but eventually chickened out and went with my old standard pasta. Then I thought, “That’s dumb! You’ll have nothing new to write about.”

Ever so hesitantly, I decided to try combining the two – adding bagna cauda to a recipe I already knew I loved. This time around I bought slightly pricier anchovies ($12 as opposed to $3) hoping that higher quality would mean less bones. I was right about this. Believe me, that extra money was worth it.

When I told Sofia what we were making, I could tell she’d probably also watched Ninja Turtles as a child, because she did not look excited about an anchovy sauce. I promised that I’d make the bagna cauda and that we could both taste it before putting it anywhere near the pasta. Rather than relying solely on the recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I did a bit of research about how to make bagna cauda. I eventually found a description in La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, which said:

This is the traditional process: in a large earthenware pot, over a low flame and stirring constantly for at least 30 minutes, slowly dissolve thinly sliced garlic cloves in extra-virgin olive oil and butter. Once they have become a creamy homogenous sauce, add the Spanish red anchovies and more oil and cook slowly until the anchovies dissolve, blending with the garlic and oil to create a light brown sauce…Firm traditionalists insist on a full head of garlic per person…[and] two to three anchovies per person.

In the end, I kind of made it up. I minced a full head of garlic and did heat it in oil over a low flame for about half an hour. Then I used ten anchovies, mashing everything a little with a wooden spoon because it didn’t really “dissolve.” And you know what? The end result was delicious. We began by putting only half the bagna cauda on the pasta, but when I went back for my second helping, I dumped in the rest. It really made the dish, which surprised me because the pasta was pretty stellar to begin with.

And so, in a very roundabout way, I think the difference between someone who cooks solely from recipes and someone who begins to command a bit more authority in the kitchen is this: the latter is a person who becomes comfortable enough that they are able to draw from many sources, synthesizing information and taking inspiration from previous experiences to create amazing meals. Does that mean I’m getting somewhere? I don’t usually think so, but as I grated extra ricotta salata cheese over top of the pasta that I just couldn’t stop eating, I have to say, I was a little bit impressed with myself.

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Radicchio, and Bagna Cauda
inspired by Gourmet, The Wednesday Chef/Nancy Silverton, and La Cucina
serves 2 to 4

For the bagna cauda:
1 head of garlic, minced or if you want to try it the traditional way, very thinly sliced
10 anchovy fillets in olive oil (they come in a tin or the pricier ones are in a glass jar)
Olive oil
Butter (optional)

For the pasta:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 heads of radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
8 – 9 oz of egg pappardelle
1/3 cup of pine nuts
1 cup grated ricotta salata (you can substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can’t find ricotta salata – I got mine at Whole Foods)

Start the bagna cauda while you prepare the ingredients for the pasta. Heat oil over low flame (I eyeballed the amount but Luisa uses 1/4 cup), and then let the garlic go over the lowest heat for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, prepare the ingredients for the pasta. When you’re ready, put water on to boil, and heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and wait while it turns golden brown, this will take about two minutes, then add the pine nuts. Move the nuts around so they get toasted, this should take only two or three minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan with a slotted spoon – place in a bowl and set aside.

Now add the butternut squash to the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and just tender (not mushy!), 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the radicchio and ½ tsp each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until wilted and just tender, about 3 minutes. (You may have to add a little bit of the radicchio at a time, as it will take up less room as it wilts, allowing you to add more.)

Meanwhile, cook pappardelle in boiling salted water until al dente. Keep in mind that egg pasta cooks much more quickly than regular pasta!

When you put the pasta in to cook, add your anchovies to the garlic mixture. Allow them to rest over low heat while the pasta cooks.

When the pasta is done, reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain pasta. Combine pasta with radicchio-squash mixture and ½ cup cooking water.  Toss together over low heat until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes.  Add more cooking water to moisten as necessary.

If your bagna cauda isn’t a uniform sauce, mash it a little with the end of a wooden spoon. Then add it to the pasta. If you’re hesitant, add just a little, then taste before adding more.

Transfer pasta to bowls, top with toasted pine nuts, and finish with a generous amount of grated ricotta salata.

And the beat goes on…

3.3.11 § 8 Comments

Dear lord. I just looked at my blog for the first time in way too long, and I realized it’s been nearly a month since my last post! I had to ask myself, “What have you been doing that has kept you soooo busy, missy?”

Well, I’ve been busy finding out that the boy I was dating (yes the one who made me burgers) was actually already in a relationship. So, now I guess I’ve been someone’s mistress, albeit unwittingly, and I can check that one off the life list. (That was meant to be sarcastic in case you couldn’t tell. It’s hard to convey an eye roll on a blog.) And I’ve been busting my ass for a side job that definitely has a busy season, because with an unpaid internship it’s pretty crucial that when I get an opportunity to make money I take advantage of it. What else? Dealing with the fallout caused by the ambiguous nature of a friends/more-than-friends (?) relationship. I’ve learned my lesson there: you’ve got to be careful with liaisons that fall into that category. Oh, and then there was the temporary disappearance and mental breakdown of a family member (I’m still a little fuzzy on the details of this one) that was pretty scary for a minute or two. (If you guys could send some happy thoughts to my fam, I’d really appreciate it).  As if all that weren’t enough, I’ve found that my three-month-that-turned-into-seven-month stint at SAVEUR is coming to an end next week, so I’m once again trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life. Any thoughts? I haven’t gotten much farther than “Tyla, take deep breaths.”

Lastly, the death of a classmate from Duke, another young girl claimed by cancer, has come as quite a shock and left many of my friends reeling. Please send some major love and light to the family and friends of Lindsay Rawot, an amazing woman who was taken away too soon.

Bottom line: everything’s normal in my life (or so I’m starting to believe). I reiterate: Universe, I’m tired of the lessons and I would like some hugging now please. K? Thanks.

I had planned for this post to be about some awesome roast chicken, but you know, now that it’s half-written, I think that the life recap is enough for now. Back to the food in the next post, I promise. But until then, I leave you with a cheery song by April Smith (I’ve been relying heavily on cheery music lately…), who I saw last night in concert. She rocks my world and you should all go buy her album Songs for a Sinking Ship.

Final note for those of you out there who worry: I’m okay. I’m getting really good at rolling with the punches.

Chickpea Spaghetti (Spaghetti con Ceci)

2.8.11 § 18 Comments

Living alone can be tough for someone who loves to cook. I get annoyed by halving recipes and I can’t always muster the willpower to eat the same thing every day for a week. However, all of this has an upside too: my freezer is full of frozen food. That’s been especially important this last week, as I’ve been so busy I haven’t even had time to breathe, let alone cook. It’s also been good because I’m getting to put some of that tupperware back into rotation *fist pump*.

This week’s star was the sauce for chickpea spaghetti, which I made a few weeks back. It was really simple to make and the deliciousness level totally blew me away. It didn’t disappoint on its second run either, although it was decidedly less pretty the second time around (which is when the picture is from).

This recipe, adapted by Deb at Smitten Kitchen from a Michael White gem, is definitely making its way into my favorites file. As Deb suggested, I doubled the sauce, and man, am I glad I did. I couldn’t get enough. She also says that this dish is great for carb-loading (it was originally run in NYMag right before the NYC marathon), but seriously, since when do I need an excuse to load up on carbs? Since never, that’s when.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe. Make it in big batches. Trust me, it’s an amazing thing to discover in your freezer.

Chickpea Spaghetti (Spaghetti con Ceci)
adapted from Smitten Kitchen where it was adapted from NYMag/Michael White

2 15 ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained or about 4 cups, freshly cooked chickpeas
1 cup chicken stock
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup pancetta, diced (about 4 ounces)
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
Generous pinch chile flakes
2 14-ounce cans of tomatoes, chopped
20 to 25 basil leaves
Salt to taste
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Set 1/2 cup of chickpeas aside. In a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender, which is what I did), combine remaining chickpeas with chicken stock and pulse a few times until chickpeas are chopped but not smooth.

Place a large pot over medium heat and add olive oil and diced pancetta. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly browned. You’ll probably want to use a splatter screen if you have one. Add onions, garlic, and chile flakes. Continue cooking until onions and garlic are translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Add chickpea mixture, tomatoes, and basil, and let it all simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt. While sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti, and cook until nearly al dente (about one minute less than you normally would). Reserve one cup of pasta water and drain the rest. Toss the pasta with chickpea sauce, reserved chickpeas and half of the reserved pasta water until evenly coated and heated through. If sauce still feels too thick add reserved pasta water as needed. (I didn’t need to do this.) Season again, as needed, and serve with grated Parmesan to pass.

Hugs and Homemade KitKat Bars

1.31.11 § 44 Comments

Let’s do a quick recap. Monday, I was linked to by the CNN food site Eatocracy; Tuesday, the link was up on Food News Journal; Wednesday, I was the featured blogger of the day on Foodpress. Thursday night, I had an amazing date with a guy I really like (shh! don’t tell him please…), and he surprised me by making dinner (as previously discussed, food is most definitely the way to my heart). Anyway, it had been way too long since I’d eaten a good burger, and that combined with the company and the wine made for a pretty kick-ass evening.  By Friday morning, I was definitely walking on sunshine.

In an annoyingly cheerful mood, I headed to the grocery store to grab ingredients for homemade KitKat bars, a recipe I’d found the previous day and couldn’t wait to try out. It wasn’t until I got home and looked at my computer and saw about 50 emails that I realized I’d been featured on freshly pressed! Needless to say, I was thrilled. It was totally a candy-making kind of day.

Thankfully, I was all alone in my apartment, so I could feel free to belt out all the songs from my favorite Broadway musicals  (namely, In the Heights, Wicked, and Legally Blonde). I danced around my kitchen feeling happier than I have in a very long time, and so much of that is thanks to all of you.

The response to my post about Ginnie has blown me away. In addition to the many, many comments and likes on the blog, I’ve also received a slew of personal emails, from someone in Australia offering to let me borrow her kitchen if I ever get out that way to a woman in Portugal, sharing the story of her own personal struggles with losing someone she dearly loved. I’ve been so deeply moved by the outpouring of love and support that I’m left without words to communicate how incredible this week has been.

Not long ago I came across a quote scribbled in an old journal of mine, which quickly became my new daily affirmation: “Hello universe. I’m tired of lessons. I would like some hugging now please.” I can’t think of a better way to describe how I’ve felt this last week than hugged by the universe, by all of you, and by Ginnie. I want you all to know I am returning that hug, and if it were possible, I would send all of you some homemade KitKat bars, which are really much more like a hybrid of a KitKat and a Reese’s. The next best thing is telling you to go make some yourself, because they are super easy and they keep in the refrigerator for two weeks! Not that they’ll hang around that long…

Homemade KitKat Bars
from Serious Eats, adapted from Paula Deen

75 Club crackers
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Line a 9 x 13 inch rectangular baking dish/pan with one layer of club crackers. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add graham cracker crumbs, dark brown sugar, milk, and granulated sugar. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Pour half of butter mixture over crackers in pan and smooth surface with a spatula. Arrange another layer of club crackers over the mixture, then cover that layer with the other half of the butter mixture. Arrange a final layer of club crackers on top.

Combine peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips in a small saucepan. (You can spray your measuring cup with Pam to keep the peanut butter from sticking.) Melt over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Spread over the top of crackers, smoothing with a spatula.

Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for two hours. Cut the bars into two-inch squares. Bars will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks in an airtight container.

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