4.14.11 § 10 Comments
I grew up hating pesto. Like, with a passion. I remember one time I was out to what I thought was a super fancy dinner, and I ordered pesto on my pasta. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it sounded cool. It. Was. Disgusting. I didn’t even eat my pasta – just pushed it to the side and picked at everyone else’s food.
But, then I got older, and I got into food, and I eventually saw a recipe for pesto. Basil, parmesan, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil. What’s there not to like?! So, tentatively, I started letting pesto back into my life, and it wasn’t so bad. I tried it out on pastas and sandwiches at relatively nice restaurants, and you know, things were going okay for me and pesto. We were getting along just fine, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I had hated it so much as a kid.
It wasn’t until a friend offered to make me a sandwich with pesto on it that it clicked: I hate pesto that comes from a jar! Hate, hate, hate. I ate my sandwich (I didn’t want to be rude), but now, I’m that annoying person that always asks “Is it fresh?” anytime someone offers me pesto, regardless of if it’s at a restaurant or someone’s home.
But let’s be honest here: fresh, handmade pesto rocks. Really. It’s just so damn good. I didn’t even realize how good it was until I made it for myself one night and had one of those “Oh my god this is the best thing I’ve ever made!” moments. Even better? It’s pretty easy. Yes, it requires lots of chopping, but for me, lots of chopping is therapeutic. (Unless I’m dealing with a dull knife. Then, this amount of chopping makes me want to pull my hair out. (I was going to say it makes me want to stab someone, but there’s really no need for violence here. Right? Especially with a dull knife.)) Another great thing about making pesto, at least for me, was that it is something it had never occurred to me could be made at home! (I know, eye roll.) I kept saying to my dinner guests, “Look! I’m making pesto! Like, making it!” (I’d like to mention that I had had a glass of wine at this point. But still.)
Anyway, listen. If you can get your hands on a fresh bunch of basil, you’ve really got to try this. Especially if, like me, you’ve been on the fence about pesto at some point in your life. Once you’ve made this, and have fallen absoluuuutely in love with it, you can spread it on sandwiches, mix it into pasta, serve it on crostini, etc. And you can feel proud, because you just made pesto.
from 101 Cookbooks
Heidi over at 101 cookbooks says that the way she learned it, the best technique is “chop a bit, add some ingredients, chop some more.” She was taught by an Italian grandmother and her guess at the reasoning is that “some things get chopped into oblivion, while some not as much – it encourages spectrum of cut sizes throughout the pesto contributing to the overall texture.” And, it takes awhile. It probably took me about 25 good minutes, with breaks to sip my wine.
Also, note that this recipe has no salt in it, so you will need to adjust the seasoning for whatever you’re using with the pesto. If it’s pasta, make sure to salt the cooking water for the pasta, and then you’ll probably need to salt to taste.
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
5 medium cloves of garlic
one small handful of raw pine nuts
roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Start chopping the garlic along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Once this is loosely chopped add more basil, chop some more, add the rest of the basil, chop some more. The trick is to chop for a bit, then scrape it all together, then add a bit more, chop some more, and scrape it all together again. (Just don’t use the blade of your knife! It dulls it!) At this point the basil and garlic should be a very fine mince. Add about half the pine nuts, chop, then add the rest of the pine nuts and chop some more. Add half of the Parmesan, chop. Add the rest of the Parmesan, and chop. When the ingredients are fine enough, you will be able to mold them into a little loaf-type thing, and the ingredients should hold together. Cover the pesto with a bit of olive oil, it doesn’t take much, just a few tablespoons.
It’s ready to eat! Either set it aside or stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it, giving it a quick stir before you add it to whatever you’re making (to incorporate the ingredients).You can set this aside or place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
4.11.11 § 8 Comments
I’ve become obsessed with roast chicken as of late, which is kind of funny, because unless I’m going to a place that is famous for it, I usually steer away from chicken on restaurant menus. Chicken is so often boring, and in my opinion, if it’s dry or poorly cooked, it’s not worth eating. However, I’ve discovered that it’s laughably easy to make a roast chicken at home that will knock your socks off and impress the heck out of any dinner guests. And there is definitely more than one way to do it.
Take for instance, spatchcocked roast chicken. It’s not the prettiest presentation, but using this technique is sure to give you an evenly cooked bird every time. Click on over to my previous post to read more about spatchcocking. Or click here to learn about why it works so well.
Or, there’s yogurt-marinated chicken with roasted red pepper sauce, which I found on The Wednesday Chef and made about a month ago but never got around to posting. While this recipe requires a bit of forethought (the marinade needs to sit on the chicken for a awhile), again, the end result is a tender, juicy chicken, and the roasted red pepper sauce is absolutely to die for. Seriously, I could eat it with a spoon.
And last but not least, the star of today’s post: an incarnation of the roast chicken served at Chez Panisse, which I adapted from the version I found over on The Amateur Gourmet. This chicken doesn’t require any advance preparation. You simply throw together a quick spice rub (pictured above), massage it into the chicken, tie up some strings, and throw the chicken in the oven. Walk away for an hour, and when you come back, you have a succulent, flavorful meal that looks absolutely gorgeous on a serving platter.
The most amazing thing is, unlike many other recipes for roast chicken, this one has no added fat! I’m not usually one to advocate for low-fat cooking, but due to an upcoming trip to tropical paradise, I’ve been thinking I should cut back on the butter. Okay, that’s not really true. But I guess that every once in a while, it might be nice not to kill dinner guests with butter, right? (I don’t know, you’ll have to tell me the answer to that one…) I guess the bottom line is that I never would have imagined that something made with no added fat could be so good! Really! It’s like magic! The entire chicken is so tender and juicy that you won’t believe there’s no voodoo involved.
And the very best part?! (I know, I know…it’s unbelievable that this gets any better…) You can make two of these at once (or one will suffice if you aren’t cooking for a crowd) and use the meat to make meals all week! I’ve been noshing on chicken quesadillas, chicken salad, chicken sandwiches…the list goes on. This is really awesome when you’re making lunches during the week and you don’t have tons of time to cook. If fact, I think I’ll go make a chicken sandwich right now! My new favorite is chicken with jalapeno hummus, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, and avocado mash (pictured below).
It’s pretty easy to get creative when the protein is taken care of. Man, this lunch rocks.
Chez Panisse Roast Chicken
adapted from Amateur Gourmet, where it was adapted from Chez Panisse Cookbook
3 to 4 pound whole chicken (I try to get close to 4 pounds)
3 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground black pepper
handful of red potatoes
1 head of garlic
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees farenheight. Remove the giblets, which are usually in a sac in the chicken’s cavity, and wash the chicken under cold water. Use paper towels to pat the chicken dry. You want to get it really dry so the skin will crisp in the oven. If not, it will just steam. Stuff the cavity with a handful of fresh thyme.
In a small bowl, mix together the salt, fennel seeds, and cayenne and black peppers. Sprinkle some of the spice mixture into the chicken’s cavity, and then rub the rest all over the chicken. You want to get it both on top of and under the skin. You may have to use your fingers to loosen the skin a bit before you can get the spice rub in there.
Get your twine ready. Pull the legs together and tie them at the feet. Next, use a larger piece of twine to go around the top section of the bird, tying the wings closely to the body. Trim the ends of the twine and place the chicken into a roasting pan or large dutch oven.
Now, cut your red potatoes in half, toss with a little bit of olive oil, and place cut-side down around the chicken. Finally, separate the cloves of garlic, but don’t peel them! Sprinkle the cloves in with the potatoes.
Place it in the oven and roast for about an hour. Remove the chicken from the oven, and if you made it in a dutch oven, put the lid on and let it rest for about 15 minutes before you carve the chicken. If you used a roasting pan without a lid, you can cover it with foil.
If you’d like to make a pan sauce, pull the chicken and potatoes out onto a platter and then use a bit of white wine to deglaze the pan over medium heat, scraping the brown bits off the bottom and allowing it to simmer and thicken a bit.
Cut the strings and remove them, carve the chicken and serve. The roasted garlic is great squeezed out of its peel onto some toasted bread or just eaten with the chicken and potatoes.
4.8.11 § 9 Comments
Unlike a lot of people, I love grocery shopping. I love picking produce, especially when you have to smell it to know if it’s ripe (peaches, pineapple). I love staring through the glass at the meat counter, trying to pick the perfect cut and imagining what I’d buy if I had an income. I love grabbing a freshly baked loaf of bread and then pulling pieces off to nibble on the way home. Give me a grocery store and a credit card and I’m a happy girl.
Which is why, after not having any time to shop or cook at all last week, this week I went a little nuts: No less than three trips to various Whole Foods around the city, two visits to my neighborhood supermarket, and approximately $200 spent on groceries. (I’d compare my behavior to someone on Easter who gave up sugar for lent. (Which is crazy.))
The height of my craziness was purchasing some halibut, which, as some of you may know, is damn expensive. I got it 25% off at Whole Foods and it was still $15 a pound. Regardless, I thought the sale was kind of a big deal, as I’ve never seen it for less than $20 a pound, so I bought just enough to make dinner for one. I figured I deserved a treat after my previous week of ramen noodles and chips and salsa.
I had a recipe in mind as soon as I saw that sale tag. Like many of my favorites, it comes from one of the Foster’s Market cookbooks, and what can I say? It totally rocked. If I could afford to buy enough halibut to feed more than one person, I would definitely make this for a dinner party, because the components are really easy to throw together (especially if you buy the butternut squash that is already cut into chunks, which is what I did because I loathe that butternut squash gook that gets on your hands).
That said, this recipe does works great with tilapia too, so if you want to try it out but not spend a fortune, you should definitely go with that. Either way, you won’t be sorry. Oh, and if you live in a small town like Clovis, New Mexico (which is where I’m from), good luck finding sherry vinegar. I scoured the grocery stores and couldn’t find it when I wanted to make this for my fam. You can either substitute red wine vinegar or balsamic, but if using balsamic, reduce the amount just a tad. Or you can order sherry vinegar here, which is what I’d recommend. It’s good to have in the pantry.
I almost forgot, I have news! Thanks to a recommendation from one of the editors at SAVEUR, I’ve landed a short-term, freelance gig doing some research at the Food Network. Anybody heard of a show called Chopped? Let’s just say, I’m going to have some insider info on what’s in those ingredient baskets! Not that I can tell you…
Pan-Roasted Halibut with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Butternut Squash
adapted from Fresh Every Day
As written, this recipe serves four. To cut it down, I just halved the squash/tomato part and used 1 fillet.
1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed
5 tbsp olive oil
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
4 halibut fillets, cut 1 inch thick, skin on (about 6 oz each) – tilapia can be used as a substitute
2 tbsp fresh marjoram leaves or 2 tsp dried marjoram
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp butter
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash, cut-side down, on a baking sheet with sides. Pour 1 cup water and 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan around the squash and roast for 40 to 45 minutes, until the squash is soft when the long section is pierced with a small knife. Check periodically while it’s cooking and add more water if needed. (*If you’re using squash that is pre-cut into cubes, toss the cubes with olive oil and salt, place on a baking pan with a little bit of water, and roast for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.)
While the squash roasts, place the tomatoes in a small baking dish, and drizzle them with 1 tbsp of olive oil and 2 tbsp of the vinegar. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. When there is about 20 minutes left on the squash, slide the tomatoes in the oven, roasting for the remaining 20 minutes or until they are slightly brown and wrinkled.
Let tomatoes and squash cool on the counter; reduce oven temp to 300 degrees.
Meanwhile, rub the halibut with salt, pepper, olive oil, and marjoram. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a nonstick skillet until the oil is about to smoke (until a pinch of salt sizzles when placed in the oil). Place the halibut fillets in the pan, skin side down. It may splatter, so if you have a splatter screen, get it out! Reduce the heat to medium and cook the fish without moving it until it is opaque halfway up the side, about 4 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the fish over, and squeeze the lemon over the fish. Cook about 3 minutes longer, until opaque, tender, and flaky when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. Transfer the fish to a platter, cover it with foil, and place it in the oven to keep warm. (If you’re substituting tilapia, which is not as thick, reduce the cooking time accordingly.)
Pour the wine, broth, and remaining vinegar into the pan you cooked the fish in. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 2 or 3 minutes, until the sauce bubbles and thickens slightly. Turn off the heat and whisk in the tbsp of butter.
Remove the skin from the squash with your hands, and cut the squash into bite-sized chunks. Add squash and tomatoes to the pan with the sauce and stir to coat. When warm, season with salt and pepper to taste. Plate (or bowl) your fish, and spoon the sauce, squash, tomato mixture on top and around it. Serve immediately.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.