Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Ah well, ce la vie. This dish is indeed delicious and it even tries to up the gratin ante by sticking Swiss chard in (perhaps to give us the illusion that we are indeed eating "vegetables). For me, the poor chard was lost amongst the cheese and starch and so I would increase the amount if I were to be make it a second time, but believe me, I'm not complaining about the first run.
Prepare thy arteries to be clogged.
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
1 pound Swiss chard leaves and slender stems, stems cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 small shallot, sliced
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 pounds (6 to 8 medium) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
6 ounces grated Gruyère
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and place rack in the center. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; set a bowl of ice water on the side. Boil the chard leaves until tender, 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to the ice water. Squeeze them dry and chop roughly. Boil the diced stems until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and add to chopped chard leaves.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream, garlic, shallot, thyme and bay leaf to a simmer. Cook until reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Strain out the solids and add the nutmeg.
3. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes into 1/8-inch-thick rounds with a mandoline or sharp knife. Butter a 12- to 14-inch gratin dish. Assemble the gratin by layering the ingredients in this order: a single, slightly overlapping layer of one-third of the potato slices, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, one-third of the Gruyère, half the Swiss chard and one-third of the reduced cream. Repeat once, and then top with one more layer of potato, salt and pepper, and the rest of the Gruyère and cream.
4. Bake until the top is browned and the potatoes are fork-tender, about 45 minutes.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Christmas Breakfast: Potato and Sausage Breakfast Popover Casserole (The "Impossible" Breakfast Casserole)
We are not usually a "breakfast" family. Sure, my mom will indulge in the occasional poached egg and my Dad is a softie for homemade pancakes, but as a familial unit, we've become increasingly lax about our morning repast. On this most recent visit, I made the shocking discovery that my parents had finally abandoned the concept altogether, preferring to wait until lunchtime to start scouring the fridge for munchables.
But for Christmas at least, my parents came to their senses. This is partially thanks to my mother who has faithfully subscribed to cooking magazines for decades and has rarely, if ever, cooked something from one of them. My mother needs a long gestation period before she decides she would like to try one of the recipes featured. This particular time was about 3 years. Sitting in the kitchen one afternoon, she pulled out a December 2007 edition of Cook's Country and announced that the breakfast casserole in it "looked neat". And thus our Christmas breakfast 2010 was born.
Apparently these "impossible" breakfast casseroles used to be all the rage...in the 1970s. The trick behind it was the lack of a proper "crust" to the casserole. Instead, a biscuit batter (made from Biquick, milk, and eggs) was poured over the contents and, once baked, Presto! a seemingly impossible crust was formed!
And indeed, presto was the word of the day. I hesitate from making baked goods in the a.m., usually an alert and ready mind is required for such projects, and I really only hit my stride around 11 (after multiple cups of coffee). But Mom and I paired up for the holidays and this thing was ready in about an hour- easy considering how impressive it looked. As a desert dwelling family, we were even able to breakfast outside on Christmas morning. And my longing for a white Christmas went right out the door into the 70 degree sunshine and thanked its lucky stars for being in Phoenix.
Note: This dish does require timing. I recommend (and it almost pains me to say this) getting all your chopping and general "mise-en-place-ing" ready before hand. It's simple if you have everything to hand, but it can turn into a timing nightmare if you are caught without a component ready at the right time.
Also, the one thing that would be an improvement to this "easy" casserole would be some nice herbs, like rosemary, sage, or thyme. We used a sage sausage (thanks Jimmy Dean!) but I would even add more herbs to give it some flavor. We ate our casserole with salsa but, hey, we're from Phoenix.
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 scallions, chopped
3/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2), peeled, and cut into the 1/4-inch dice
1 (12 ounce) packaged bulk sausage meat
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat over to 425 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by lining the bottom of the pan with aluminium foil (preferably nonstick), attaching the sides of the pan, and tucking the foil underneath the pan bottom. Coat the sides and bottom with cooking spray. Set the pan aside on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Whisk eggs, milk, and 1/2 tsp salt in bowl until well combined. Stir in flour until just incorporated; the mixture will be a bit lumpy. Whisk in butter until batter is smooth. Stir in scallions and set batter aside while preparing filling.
3. Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp. water in large microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, cut vent holes in plastic, and microwave on high power until potatoes just begin to soften, 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, cook sausage in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking up clumps, until meat has lost most of its pink coor, about 4 minutes. Using slotted spoon, spread sausage evenly over bottom of prepared springform pan.
4. Heat oil in skillet with sausage fat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add potatoes and 1/4 tsp salt and cook until potatoes are golden and crisp, 8-10 minutes. Drain potatoes on paper towels.
5. While potatoes are cooking, place springform pan with sausage in over for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and, working quickly, sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese over sausage and pour bater evenly over filling. Scatter potatoes on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven, run knife around edges of pan, and let cool for 5 minutes. Release outer ring and, using spatula, transfer casserole to serving plate. Serve warm.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I was lucky enough to go to Tangiers, Morocco when I visiting Spain way back in 2004. I took the ferry over for the day from Gibraltar and got to set foot in Africa for a few fun hours. This, being me, included a great chance to taste some Moroccan cuisine, something which I had only heard legends about before arriving. The place we went to for lunch featured a Moroccan specialty, b'stilla, basically a chicken pot pie amped up in the best way possible. The flavors of cinnamon and coriander highlight the roast chicken and almonds- absolutely delicious. I had never thought of adding what I considered to be a spice reserved predominantly for desserts into meat, let alone poultry.
I was hooked from that moment on, but I had never thought about making b'stilla for myself until I visited home this Christmas. My mother had ambitiously bought a weighty French cookbook, Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan but had yet to cook anything from it. As I was leafing through it, what did I find? A recipe for b'stilla! It looked easy enough so I set to the task at hand.
Now, when I say "easy enough", I mean "easy enough considering I rarely cook with pastry, let alone frozen filo dough which this recipe depends on". This dish defines the concept of "multi-step". I certainly would never make this as an easy weeknight meal, but as I was home for Christmas and had the time on my hands, it was a great way to introduce myself to the wonders of pre-made frozen pastry. It also came out fabulously- a testament to the "relative" ease of Dorie Greenspan's book.
I've copied the recipe here fairly faithfully, adding in a few notes to help the unknowing cook (like myself) stumble through this Moroccan specialty. If you do decide to confront the challenge, I guarantee you, you will not be disappointed.
8 chicken thighs skinned (Greenspan wants you to use bone-in, but I did it without and it came out just fine)
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, split and chopped
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Big pinch of saffron threads (I didn't have saffron so I used about a teaspoon of turmeric, again, no problems with the switch)
2 1/2 cups of chicken broth
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs
2 tbsp honey
Freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
8+ sheets filo (each 9x14 inches)
(NB I used frozen filo pastry and it was a nightmare to get the sheets unstuck to each other. If you can, try to find refrigerated filo which I have heard is much easier to work with)
About 6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces sliced almonds (a scant cup), toasted and chopped
Cinnamon sugar, for dusting
1. Put the chicken pieces, onions, garlic, and spices into a Dutch oven or other large casserole and give everything a good stir. Cover and let the chicken marinate for one hour at room temperature. (If it's more convenient for you, the chicken can be marinated in the refrigerator for as long as one day)
2. Add the chicken broth and 1 tsp salt to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so that the liquid simmers, cover the pot, and cook for 1 hour, at which point the chicken should be falling-off-the-bone tender (or just tender if you're using boneless chicken).
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a bowl. Strain the broth, saving both the liquid and the onions. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and cut it into small cubes or shred it.
4. Clean the Dutch oven and pour the broth back into it, or pour the broth into a medium saucepan. Whisk in the lemon juice, bring to a boil, and cook until you have 1 cup liquid. Reduce the heat to low.
5. Beat the eggs with honey, and, whisking all the while, pour into the broth. (NB!! Ok, this step is a little treacherous. Be SURE that you broth has significantly reduced in temperature before you add the eggs and honey to the mixture. If the broth is too hot and you are not whisking enough, your eggs will scramble in the mixture. I was able to avoid the problem, but only just.
6. Heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens enough thtat your whisk leaves tracks in it, about 5 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
7. Sir the chicken and reserved onions into the sauce, along with the cilantro and parsley. (You can make the chicken and sauce up to 1 day ahead and keep it covered and refrigerated.)
8. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
9. Take your filo sheets (either defrosted or taken from the fridge) from the package and cover them with a damp kitchen towel. Brush a 9-inch round cake pan, one that's 2 inches tall, with melted butter. Brush 1 sheet of filo with melted butter and center it in the pan, so that the excess hangs over the edges. Brush another sheet and press it into the pan so that it's perpendicular to the first sheet and forms a plus sign. Place a third and then a fourth buttered sheet into the pan so that they form an X; the overhang from all the sheets shoudl cover the edges of the pan. (OK, separating the filo sheets can be a bit of a trick. If you find that each section has two sheets rather than one, believe me, it'll be ok. Just make sure the base is approximately level when you finish).
11. Butter the remaining sheets of filo, stacking them one on top of the other on the work surface. Using a pot lid or the bottom of a tart pan as a guide, cut out a 10- to 11- circle. Center the circle over the cake pan and gently tuck the eduge of the dough into the pan, working your way around it as though you were making a bed. Brush the top of the b'stilla with a little butter and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar. Place the pan on the baking sheet.
12. Bake the b'stilla for 20 minute, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes more. If the top seems to be getting too brown at any point, cover it loosely with foil. Transfer the b'stilla to a cooling rack and let it rest for about 5 minutes.
13. Lay a piece of parchment over a cutting board and have a serving platter at hand. Turn the b'stilla out onto the parchment-lined board and then invert it onto the serving platter, so that it's right side up. Serve the b'stila now, cutting it into wedges, or serve it warm or at room temperature. (Ok, there was no way I was flipping this bad boy after so much work. I served mine from the pan and it held together just find, but hey, for presentation's sake, this isn't a bad idea for future reference.)
Saturday, December 25, 2010
|Pulled from Yelp.com. A picture from the old location of El Conquistado.|
We discovered this place by looking up Mexican restaurants in our area. Although the owners have subsequently moved to Glendale, the food remains absolutely delicious. Maria, the co-owner of the restaurant and head chef, specializes in Jalisco-style cooking. This means phenomenal carne asada tacos, pork with poblanos, and, did I mention the posole?
This soup, made fresh on the weekends (both green and red versions available) is hands-down the best. The green happens to be my favorite, but I have it on good authority that the red does itself justice. A thick broth that has been simmering for hours, filled with tender pork, hominy, spices, and of course, accompanied by radishes, cilantro, avocado, chicharrones...oh, I'm gettng hungry just thinking about it. This all comes in a bowl the size of your head. This soup is no "starter" but a full meal and then some.
I would go to this restaurant every day if I could. Don't be fooled by the somewhat standard fare that appears on the menu. The daily specials, written on a board, are where it's at. And combine that with the weekend soups (the aforementioned posole plus menudo, caldo de pollo, and albondigas), well, you can't ask for much more. It's also extremely reasonable in price, although I would pay top dollar for that posole.
5350 W. Bell Rd.
Glendale, AZ 85308
It was only at a party, when I was exposed to the wonders of Nigella Lawson and her glorious pseudo-Moroccan lamb meatballs, that my mind was changed forever. It's the blend of spices that takes the morsels to a new level entirely. These meatballs became a staple of weeknight dinners and, now that I'm home for the holidays, I have decided to preach the gospel of meatballs to my mother.
Much to my surprise, a Southwest cooking magazine was ALSO featuring a lamb spiced meatball for their December issue. Now, I don't want to accuse anyone of plagarism, but they are strikingly similar. At least Sunset magazine upped their game a bit by putting a cilantro-mint chutney with them. Personally, I can eat these meatballs all by their lonesome, but the chutney was a nice accompaniment. No matter where the recipe came from originally, I recommend these to all.
Mini lamb meatballs (cilantro-mint chutney recipe follows)
Makes 40 (or thereabouts)
1 tsp. cumin seeds (or ground cumin if you prefer)
1 tsp coriander seeds (or ground)
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 lb. ground lamb
3 tbsp. semolina
1 large egg
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Toast cumin over medium heat until fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder and put in a medium bowl. (If using ground spices, just combine all in a bowl and skip the spice grinder bits)
Grind coriander and fennel and add to the bowl with remaining spices, salt, lamb, semolina, and egg.
Chill mixture in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
With wet hands, form chilled meat into 1-in. balls and set on a baking sheet.
Heat oil in a heavy 12-in. nonstick frying pan over medium heat.
Serve hot with cilantro-mint chutney on the side.
4 tbsp. low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp minced serrano chile
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups loosely packed cilantro
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp. lemon juice
Put all chutney ingredients in a food processor and whirl until smooth.
Add more lemon juice if you like.
Spoon into a serving bowl.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Oh yes. Let me explain.
Despite having lived in England for three years, it was only at a Christmas market last year that I tried roasted chestnuts for the first time. And they were delicious. And seemingly so easy to make.
So when I returned to the Arizona lands, I decided this traditional English Christmas-time treat should be introduced. I mean, I had already brought mulled wine and mince pies to the Arizonan masses (by which I mean 2, maybe 3 people, tops), roasted chestnuts seemed like a snap.
Finding chestnuts would be the hardest hurdle. But as Phoenix seems to have birthed about 15 different mega-supermarkets in my absence, offering a range of unexpected delights (deli! jewelry store! Starbucks! valet parking! car wash! All in the same store!), finding chestnuts seemingly posed an easy task.
Wandering through the "nut boutique" of my local supermarket, I inquired about the location of chestnuts to a friendly employee. I was surprised to learn that the store indeed sold them. I happened over to the bin which was labelled chestnuts and...well...I got confused.
Atop a massive bin of nuts was a small bowl of chestnuts. Now the bin resembled the nuts in the picture above (Yes, yes, I'm aware they bear absolutely no resemblance to what chestnuts look like, see picture below).
These seemed to have no relation whatsoever to the chestnuts in the bowl that was placed under them. But, in my Starbucks-adled state, I thought, SURELY, these are also chestnuts. So I helped myself to a sackful.
Yes. Yes I know. Foolish. But there we have it. And thus I ended up with a pound of brazil nuts and nothing to do with them.
I find the best thing to do in these situations is make cookies.
And so I set to the task of cracking and shelling a pound of brazil nuts. Which, let me tell you, is harder than it sounds. Fast forward an hour and I was ready to make cookies. After scanning the internet for brazil nut recipes, I happened upon a recipe that called for 2 cups of the things and resembled nothing so much as Mexican wedding cookies- a nice tea cookie dusted in powdered sugar.
And thus: brazil nut cookies. I even shaped them into brazil nut shapes, just to emphasize the point. But they were delicious, and fabulous with coffee, so I consider it a mistake well made.
Now about those roasted chestnuts...
Brazil Nut Cookies
3/4 cup soft shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups ground Brazil nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream shortening with sugar in large mixing bowl. Use the "cream" setting on your mixer (hand or stand).
Beat in egg, vanilla, and salt.
Cut in flour with two knives or a pastry blender.
Mix in ground Brazil nuts.
Shape dough into one-inch balls, then roll balls between palms or on floured board to form two-inch long sticks.
Arrange on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Roll in confectioner's sugar when cool.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
My mom has always been a devoted follower of the humble latke. If she had her druthers, pancakes throughout the world would be given up in favor of the potato pancake. When I was small, I obviously thought this was nuts. But now, older and wiser, I understand her love of the eggy potatoy fried dish. I still maintain a healthy devotion to pancakes, but when I saw this recipe in the latest issue of Cooking Light (December 2010) for a dinner curried version of the breakfast potato pancake, I couldn't resist. There was even an apple and pear salsa to accompany. Mmmm. Fusion.
For the latkes (apple & pear salsa below)
3 cups shredded peeled butternut squash (about 3/4 pound)
3 cups shredded peeled baking potato (about 3/4 pound)
1 cup grated onion
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coridander
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 large egg
4 tbsp fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Combine squash, potato, and onion in a colander. Drain 30 minutes, presshing occasionally with the back of a spoon until barely moist.
Combine potato mixture, cilantro, salt, flour, herbs/spices, and egg in a large bowl. Toss well.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 tsp oil to pan, swirl to coat. Spoon 1/4 cup potato mixture loosely into a dry measuring cup. Pour mixture into pan; flatten slightly. Repeat process 4 times to form 5 latkes.
Saute 3 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown and thoroughly cooked. Remove latkes from pan; keep warm.
Repeat procedure twice with remaining oil and potato mixture to yield 14 latkes in total.
Serve with salsa.
1 1/2 cups finely copped Gala apple
1 pear, finely chopped
1/4 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 finely chopped seeded serrano chile
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/8 tsp salt
Combine apple, pear, and lime juice in a bowl; toss.
Add onion, chile, cilantro, and salt. Toss.
Cover and chill. Serve with latkes.
This recipe is almost embarrassingly easy. So embarrassing that when people demanded the recipe, I felt foolish when I couldn't reciting it from memory. Honestly, it's that easy.
The only problem is that Bittman only accounts for one pan to be made at a time.
Fool, clearly we will want at least 4 pans of this stuff.
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
4 tbsp cold butter
1/4 cup cream
2 tbsp chopped sage (fresh if possible)
Pulse flour, salt, Parmesan and cold butter in a food processor (even this is optional, I just combined it in a large bowl).
Add cream and chopped sage.
When just combined, roll as thinly as possible, score into squares, sprinkle with salt and bake at 400 degrees until golden.
Let cool, then break into pieces.
This may sound like a bizarre combination, but trust me, these cookies are delicious. And...did I mention, easy to make? My mom found the recipe a few years back in Gourmet magazine (ah, those were the days) and, on a whim, we experimented with the sage and apricot on some unsuspecting Christmas party guests. And oh my, they were gone in minutes. There's something about the crumbly cornmeal paired with the sweetness of the apricot and the earthiness of the sage.
Combine the deliciousness with the ease of the recipe, and you've got an absolute win. Also, you'll look like one of those fun 'experimental' cooks.
• 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened well
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 large egg
• 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
• 1/2 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. and lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
In a bowl whisk together butter, sugar, and egg until smooth. Sift in flour and baking soda and add apricots, sage, cornmeal, and salt, stirring until combined.
Drop tablespoons of dough about 1 inch apart onto baking sheets and bake in batches in middle of oven 10 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I will mention that they can all be found in Mark Bittman's (yes, another homage to the Bittster) 101 Head Starts on the Day, first published in the New York Times for Thanksgiving 2009. I used some of these for Thanksgiving last year and they were such a hit (and did I mention they were easy?) that they deserved to be brought out again for another round of Thanksgiving fun.
This particular recipe will probably create the largest divide among the audience. Some people could not get enough of this stuff. The pumpkin seeds and chiles make for an unusual combination in brittle, I grant you. But come on, we've been putting chiles in chocolate for years now and no one's made a huge fuss. Personally, I love this dish. For ease, well, clearly. But mostly for the Southwestern Thanksgiving flavors it invokes. Try it out with varying levels of chile, depending on your audience.
One note of caution:I will say, be careful not to completely overdo the ancho paste as it will make the brittle a little softer and will take longer to firm up. I popped my version in the freezer for about 10 minutes just so that the brittle would harden faster.
Hey, I live for the moment. That's what I do.
2 cups sugar
2 tbsp water
2 cups peanuts or pumpkin seeds (I recommend the pumpkin seeds)
3 mashed canned chipotle chiles in adobo (or to taste)
Cook 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a deep saucepan over medium heat, stirring once in a while until golden.
Off heat, stir in 2 cups peanuts or pumpkinseeds and 1 or 2 mashed canned chipotle chilies with a bit of their adobo (more if you like things fiery).
Quickly spread the mixture out on a buttered rimmed baking sheet and let cool before breaking into pieces.