Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday Night Bites

This week I did something a little bit crazy...and I liked it!
What do we look for when we go out? We want good food and different flavors and not necessarily a "meal". That's what I have been doing right along, an appetizer, main dish with a veg and starch then dessert, but you know what? We don't always want a meal. Maybe a spicy bite here and an acidic bite there and maybe a meaty bite... that's what we want.

Spinach and Artichoke Flat bread

Tony and I went to the mall last week and we ate at a place called "The Met Bar". We saw a show one time where they talked about the unique way they cook their burgers, with a vertical grill. We ate there before and wanted to go back. This time we had an appetizer first called "Spinach and Artichoke Flat bread" that I decided to recreate. We have all had spinach and artichoke dip but this was interesting. I made some pizza dough, I made spinach and artichoke dip and you just roll out the dough fairly thin and put it on an oiled sheet pan, I did a long rectangle shape. Spread out the spinach and artichoke as you would do tomato sauce on pizza dough, about 1/2 inch thick. Drizzle with a little olive oil and grate some Parmesan cheese over. Put into a 500 degree oven and about 15-20 minutes later it's done, when the crust gets golden. They also had some crispy, deep fried artichoke pieces on top, only a few, so that's what I did too. I made a little tempura batter and just used artichokes from a can that were packed in water, just one that I quartered.

Salmon Rillette [ree-YEHTS] with Toast

This came from "The best thing I ever ate" show. I think it was Tyler Florance that raved about this dish from "The French Laundry" restaurant ran by Thomas Keller in California. They don't give the exact recipes on this show but they give you a quick look at the basic way they do it and I watched closely and I think I may have been right on. It was really delicious. Here is what I did...1/2 Lb salmon steamed in a Pernod for about 8-10 minutes then let it cool and break it into pieces (not too much). Add the steamed salmon to a bowl then add 1/2- 3/4 cup half inch dice of smoked salmon. Soften minced shallots in butter and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes let it cool then add it to the salmon. To the bowl add about 2-3 Tbsp Creme Fraiche, 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 egg yolk, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently together and taste for seasoning. Pack it into a short fat glass (he used a cute little mason jar with a flip top lid) and pour over the top about 1/4-1/2 inch of clarified butter. Chill for an hour and serve with slices of toasted French Baguette. When you serve you remove the butter in one piece and put it on the side and you can spread the butter and/or the salmon rillette on your toast. It tastes like a fancy restaurant dish.

Braised Pork Belly and Frisee

In case you didn't notice, pork belly is big now in fancy restaurants and I come across it more and more when I flip through food magazines. It's the same cut that bacon is made from but it's not smoked it's braised. I am not one to enjoy a lot of this kind of thing because let's face it, it's mostly fat. But when we went to NYC on our restaurant hopping trip a couple months back, this was something we had at Momofuko restaurant, and it's very good in small bites. But the problem is that it's usually sold in a big slab, too big for just Tony and I. So I came across this small package of Salt Pork (which is the same cut) that was pre sliced and it was kind of meaty looking. I didn't know what I would do with it at the time but then it came to me. I could do something Julia Child would do to bacon when she wanted to remove some of the smoke flavor, except I want to remove some of the salt. I will boil it then treat it like it's just a small piece of pork belly. So I found a recipe that Emeril has on Food and I followed it. It's marinated over night in orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon and lime juice, garlic and ginger, green onions, sambal and chicken stock. Braise it in the oven for a couple hours and chill it for 6 hours then reheat it. It's really good, Tony loved it. Perfect for a small bite and I served it with frisee lettuce dressed with rice wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

Fried Soft Boiled Egg over Stewed Vegetables

I served this on the same plate as the braised pork. We were watching Iron Chef and the ingredient was basil. One of the chef's made some stewed vegetables and topped it with a deep fried soft boiled egg that was breaded. So I said "Ooo I'll do that"! I soft boiled an egg for 6 minutes and let it cool in cold water. Tap the whole egg with the back of a spoon and starting at the fat end of the egg start to peel carefully under cool water and it takes a minute but you can easily peel it. I chilled the eggs until I was ready to fry them a few hours later. I made some stewed vegetables by just throwing into a sauce pan; green and red peppers, baby tomatoes, basil, onions, olive oil, splash of red wine vinegar and salt. I covered it and just cooked it slowly until the vegetables looked delicious. When I was ready to serve I breaded the eggs with flour, egg and bread crumbs then deep fried for about one minute until it's golden in color and the inside warms through. Wow the egg on top of the vegetables and when you cut into it and it oozzes, it's something else. Who knew?

Sweet and Tangy Salad in Endive Cups with Mignonette Sauce

I wanted to do something light amongst all the other "bites" and I also wanted to use Mignonette sauce. Tony loves this sauce with his oysters at Mills Tavern, every time he gets them he's always loving the sauce. So I came across a recipe which is just 1 minced shallot, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. I don't think I will ever have oysters so what can I do? I thought I would do some different exotic fruits and vegetables all cut into 1/4 inch dice and use the leaves of the endive lettuce as the vehicle. So I cut up some kiwi, green grapes, Bosc pear, fresh mint and golden beets that I roasted ahead of time. I squeezed the juice of a half a lemon into the bowl just to prevent the pear from browning. I spooned the mixture into the endive leaves and put it in the refrigerator until I was ready to serve. Just before serving I spooned the mignonette sauce on top and around the endive "boats". We loved the combination of everything and I think it was a good way to use the sauce.

Martini Ice Cream with Candied Olives

Originally I was planning to make 3 mini examples of homemade ice cream of flavors we never tasted in ice cream (I will save that for another time). To get ideas I was looking through my "Food Lover's Companion" book and I saw Gin, it explains how they make it and what other flavors go into it. It's made with juniper berries (which we just happened to have in the spice cabinet), anise, caraway seed, cardamom, cinnamon, citrus peel, coriander seeds, ginger root and a couple other things I wouldn't be able to get. I thought that I would crush all these different flavors in my mortar and pestle and then steep them in the milk of the ice cream for 30 minutes and proceed with making ice cream as I normally would. But this gave me another idea. If I make ice cream that tastes like gin I will have to serve it in a martini glass (Tony drinks his martini's with gin not vodka so this was just a natural thought). And you can't just do that you have to have something that would be the olive... Well what if I just candy some real olives... That's what I did. I made a simple syrup and just gently cooked olives over low heat for about an hour. When I tasted them while they were warm they were great, a sweet olive, perfect! I put it together and put the martini glasses in the freezer. The ice cream was delicious but you don't think gin when you taste it, you think cardamom with some other flavors. The olives when frozen and next to the sweet ice cream tasted too savory, almost like I didn't candy them at all.

Friday Night, Boeuf Bourguignonne

The idea came from Anthony Bourdain's show on techniques, the same show that inspired the homemade pasta dish last Thursday night. Throughout the whole show he made this beef dish, while it cut to different chefs doing their "technique dish". I'm sure I made this before but I probably didn't do it exactly the same way. I am sure I used more vegetables and I didn't use all wine as the braising liquid like he showed, more like a American beef stew. It was hard to tell exactly what he did...Did he keep adding wine as it evaporates...Did he add something else...Did he cover the roasting pan, it didn't look like it...So I did it his way and my way.


I looked through some magazines to find an appetizer idea that I haven't made and I found something. Muhammara, which is a Syrian roasted pepper and walnut spread that is a great alternative to hummus. You just throw all the ingredients into a food processor until a coarse puree forms. The recipe calls for walnuts (I used almonds), I don't know how it happened but I was out of walnuts, I always have a big bag from BJ's in the freezer. It's 12 oz of roasted red peppers, 1 cup of almonds or walnuts, 1/3 cup of Panko bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp of lemon juice, 1 tsp of cumin and 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. I served it with store bought pita chips. Really good and easy to do and not bad for the waist line.

Boeuf Bourguignonne

I would normally use my LeCruset heavy bottomed cast iron enamel covered pot for something like this and just brown the meat in two batches. Instead though, Anthony Bourdain used a heavy bottomed roasting pan spread over two burners on the stove top, it saves time to do it with the roasting pan. The reason is because when you brown the beef chunks, you really need to space them out a bit, otherwise you will end up with a tan color on the beef and it will turn watery and start to steam, and that is not what you want. So I browned some 2 inch pieces of chuck beef on all sides in a little bit of olive oil, which takes about 10 minutes or so. Remove the meat pieces to a plate and pour off the extra fat. Place the pan back on the heat and add an onion that's medium diced. Cook the onion over medium heat, scraping the brown bits and making sure the onions don't burn for about 10 minutes. Add Burgundy wine (about 2-3 cups, he didn't really say but that's what I did) and continue scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add big 1 inch chunks of carrots and the meat back in and just let it cook for 3 hours. Now that's when I was worried about evaporation, he never said he covered it but I took a big sheet of parchment paper and wet it, squeeze out the excess water and put it right on the stew, tucking it along the inside of the pan and every 30 minutes I removed the parchment and stirred it and replaced the parchment. It was still evaporating a little so I had made some beef stock a week earlier, it was sitting in the freezer, so I heated it to defrost it and reduced it down a bit. After it was reduced I added the stock to the stew when it needed it. I don't know if Anthony Bourdain did that, but I would suggest you do that. If you add more wine later on it won't taste very good, and you want a nice meaty sauce in your Boeuf Bourguignonne, it won't be good if it's dried out. That's it, after cooking for 3 hours the meat is very tender and the sauce is rich and tasty. Plate it in a shallow bowl and garnish with fresh parsley.

Homemade Basket of Flavored Breads and Butters

After going to the Mill's Tavern last week and getting a basket of flavored breads, it inspired me to do it myself. I have been making bread lately from Jim Lahey's book, the no-kneed method. At the restaurant they served a fennel and raisin bread, a sourdough and an Italian bread. I had a thought one day that the spice fennugreek (which has a maple syrup flavor) would pair well with bacon. So I thought I would do two breads; the fennel and raisin; the fennugreek and bacon. I cooked the ingredients ahead and after the second rise of the dough when I was shaping them into the final bread shape, I incorporated the ingredients to make the two flavors. The butters were just a really good European style butter which has a higher percentage of fat, and in turn it tastes really good. The other butter was something I never had and I kind of knew it might not go with Boeuf Bourguignonne but I made it anyway was, apple butter. It's apples and cider, sugar and spices and you cook it down until it gets really thick, which takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It was really good, I think it would be perfect with pork.

Mixed Berry Tart with Coffee

I have made lots of tarts... apple, peach, chocolate... I don't believe I have ever made a berry tart with pastry cream. I can't believe it myself! If I did it was a long time ago. So I got John Barricelli's new book, he is a guy that Martha Stewart has made famous. He's on her shows once in a while and he's like the 3rd generation of bakers in his family. He's got a bakery in Connecticut called The Sono Baking Company. He's got some good looking pictures of this berry tart in his book, I had to make it. I wanted to make the smaller tartlet shapes but I couldn't find the mini pans you need in the couple days I had, so I just used a bigger 12 inch tart pan. It's really easy to do and impressive looking. The one thing I would change is the crust, I made his which is very different than I usually do, his is a much more wet dough. So you make the dough and "blind bake" it, and let it cool. You make a pastry cream, which is simple and delicious. Use whatever berries you want, I used black berries and raspberries. To assemble just spread the pastry cream onto the cooled off tart crust, heat a couple Tbsp of apricot jam and coat the berries in the jam then spoon the berries over the top of the tart. Sprinkle some sliced almonds on the edges. Serve it with a rich cup of coffee.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday Night at the Mill's Tavern

I had plans to go to Boston on Friday morning with a friend so I thought, instead of rushing to put together a fancy meal after returning home from Boston, I would take this opportunity to suggest going out to dinner. Tony is always saying, "You know if you don't feel like cooking we can always go out...". It turns out we never went to Boston because it was such a rainy and raw day. So we kept our plan to go out anyway and we decided that the Mills Tavern in Providence was the place.

The thing we love to do is sit at the bar at the Mill's Tavern to dine. They always serve a small bowl of cashews, which we have started to do at home, at times, and we find that cashews go well with a drink. But I have to say this time the cashews were different. They seemed to be very buttery almost like they tossed the nuts in butter in a pan. They didn't feel buttery in your hand but a definite butter taste. I like them a little less buttery and a little more salty myself.  Tony asked for blue cheese stuffed olives in his martini, but the bartender said they were not available (they usually are at the Mills).  But "Tomolives" were which Tony also likes.

The options for an appetizer are limited. They have a "raw bar" and Tony always takes advantage of that, he got some oysters, which he always enjoys very much. He says they have extra good ones there. For me it's a salad. I have probably gotten all of them and they are always pretty big and can be filling so I opted for the mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette. It's a good size and not filling at all. They served some mixed breads, raisin with fennel seeds, sourdough and Italian. It's hard to resist trying each of them.

I ordered the Filet Mignon with a grilled duo of beets. I was drawn to it because the Filet was served bone-on which you never see. Usually it's cut off the bone so I thought, I have to see what this looks like. I have made porterhouse steaks many times and basically that the same cut with the NY Strip still attached to it. So that was very flavorful, delicious and moist. The beets were interesting, it was red and yellow beets and you could see the grill marks on them. They had a very interesting and pleasant smokey flavor. Tony will be trying to recreate them on his smoker some time.

Tony ordered the Braised Short Ribs with Orange flavored Fennel. Of course we had a bite or two of each others and his was really yummy. Super tender, meaty short ribs and the fennel cooked perfectly with what seemed to be grated orange zest as the orange flavor, very interesting. I'll be stealing that idea.

We shared a side of Sweet Potato and Carrot puree. It was very fall tasting because it had a strong Cinnamon flavor to it. It paired nicely with both of our meals.

For dessert we shared the Cream Brulee with Warm Berry Compote. Very nice with the warm raspberry over the top, it could have used more berries. I will be stealing that idea too.

Thursday Night, Fresh Pasta

This weekend I knew we were going out on Friday night so I did a "quick fancy meal" on Thursday. After watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show, I was intrigued by a pasta dish. It was a show on "techniques" and he had guest chefs on. Scott Conant was making "pasta with red sauce" and he did some different things while making the sauce. I didn't have the real recipe, I just guessed at the amounts. What he does is uses fresh tomatoes that he peels the skin off of and puts it in a pan with a little olive oil and a good pinch of salt. The salt will help to break down the tomatoes, but he helps it along with a potato masher and lets it cook for 45 minutes. I used canned San Marzano whole tomatoes because I didn't want to go to the store and they were, I am sure just as good. While the tomatoes cook down he infuses olive oil, he said 2 cups I did about 1/2 cup or 3/4 maybe, with 10 whole garlic cloves, a handful of fresh basil leaves and a good pinch of crushed red pepper. He said he thinks of it as tea, just cook over very low heat until the oil takes on all those flavors, it probably took about 10-15 minutes. Once the tomatoes are cooked down and the oil is infused you strain all the oil into the tomatoes and mix it together. When he's ready to serve, he does one serving at a time by putting one serving of the tomato sauce in a skillet and cooking one serving of spaghetti then adding the pasta to the sauce along with a little pasta water and toss it with about 1 tbsp of butter, more fresh basil, more olive oil and more red pepper flakes. He tosses adding a bit more pasta water if necessary until the sauce becomes almost creamy from the butter added at the end. It's heavy duty with all that oil and butter but it is good, I must say.

To make it special I made fresh pasta. You can make fresh pasta with out a recipe and the amounts aren't important. I scoop some All Purpose Flour onto my butcher block counter, probably about 2 cups and a pinch of salt. Mix it together a bit and make a well in the center, add room temperature eggs into the well; you can do all yolks, all whole eggs, some of each... I usually do some of each, this time I did 3 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk...The last couple times I made pasta I have used some olive oil and I like that addition. The oil adds a nice texture to the dough, again no measurements, maybe I used 1-2 Tbsp this time. Use a fork and break the eggs and mix, adding some flour a bit at a time with the tines of the fork and when it's thick enough start to bring it together with your hands and a bench scraper, adding more flour as you need it but not so much that it starts to make a tough dough. Then roll it through the pasta machine (I have the attachment to my Kitchen Aid) about 10-15 times until it's silky then rest, covered with a damp towel for about 30 minutes. Then roll out and cut into spaghetti. It's ready to be boiled now, but I let mine sit on the counter with a little flour until I was ready, about an hour later. Fresh pasta only needs about 3 minutes of cooking in boiling salted water.

I served a salad before the pasta. Tony smoked his own bacon and a beef brisket last weekend and we hadn't tried the bacon yet. I cut the bacon as thin as I could with a chef's knife. I wanted to cook some as is and some of it with brown sugar. Place a cooling rack on a sheet pan and place the bacon strips on the cooling rack. Over half of the slices sprinkle on brown sugar, maybe 1-2 tsp per strip of bacon. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and 15-20 minutes later it's done. So I tossed the brown sugar bacon, fresee lettuce and thinly sliced radishes together. I made a salad dressing using shallots, mustard, honey, sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and after emulsifying it I grated some Parmesan Reggiano in and stirred together. I was thinking of Caesar Salad Dressing with the grated cheese. Toss it together and it was really a great combination.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Friday Night, Braised Chicken Thighs

This week the style of "a`la Florentine" was on my mind. A` la Florentine means; In the style of Florence Italy, which is something (like chicken) presented on a bed of spinach and topped with Mornay Sauce. I didn't want to do chicken breast, which is my first thought, I wanted to do something I haven't done much and believe me, I have cooked plenty of plain old chicken breasts. Chicken Thighs came to mind because it's Tony's favorite cut. I thought the best way would be to braise them, cook them so they fall off the bone and make a really comfort food dish.

Steamed Artichokes with Almond Saffron Dip

I've often thought that artichokes are an enormous waist of time and artichoke (really), to deal with from the produce department so I never buy them. I usually buy them marinated in a jar or I have even gotten them frozen. Today I thought, Ok let's give artichokes a chance again, they looked nice and fresh at the store. I wanted to try this whole steamed artichoke that you kind of scrape out the goodness from each leaf of the artichoke with your teeth. It was surprisingly good with this Almond Saffron Dip, which you can find on the, it's by Ellie Kreeger. I cut off the top 1/3 of the artichokes and removed some of the outer leafs, then snipped off any pointy tips that were left. Cut the stem off at the Base of the artichoke. Steamed in a big pot with the stem side up for about 40 minutes. Then I removed the choke and filled in where the choke was with this dip. It makes a good snack before a meal because they are really not filling at all, but it gives you something to chew on.

Braised Chicken Thighs Florentine Style

Instead of making the sauce separately I wanted to make it all in the same pan. So I seasoned the chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on) with salt and pepper and seared them in a cast iron pan with olive oil on both sides. I removed them to a plate and poured off any fat. To the pan I added a good splash of white wine, a splash of water (out of chicken stock), crushed garlic, bay leaf, 1/2 of an onion cut in half and black pepper. I removed the skin from the chicken and put the chicken into the liquid in the pan, covered tightly and simmered gently for 90 minutes (turning over the chicken half way through). Once it's falling off the bone, remove the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Pour off the liquid in the pan and return to medium heat. Put a bit of olive oil in the pan and throw in some minced shallots. After about 5 minutes add minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds, add about a cup of white wine and reduce in half. Add about 1 cup of heavy cream and reduce that in half. Whisk in about 1/2 cup of fontina cheese, a bit of fresh parsley. Place the chicken back into the pan and coat with the Mornay Sauce.

Fontina Stuffed Risotto Cakes

I made just a basic risotto in the morning, but you can also do it the day before. It's butter and oil in a pan with some onions then garlic and some short grained rice (I used Carnarolli). After toasting the rice for a couple minutes you add some white wine and evaporate it completely. Then over the next 25-30 minutes you add ladles of chicken stock, one ladle at a time letting it evaporate each time, and stirring the whole time. When you stir the grains of rice rub against each other and the starch is rubbed off and after 25-30 minutes you have perfectly cooked rice that is in a "creamy" sauce. So later in the afternoon I took the risotto out of the refrigerator and stirred in some thinly sliced scallion tops for color and flavor. I was able to make 9 risotto cakes out of the one cup of rice I cooked. They were about 1/3 of a cup in size. I made a little indention in the center of each one and put in a small square of aged fontina cheese. I filled in the hole with more rice and shaped them again. I coated each risotto cake in some panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs). Put them on a plate and chill in the refrigerater, covered, for at least 20 minutes, I let mine sit for a few hours. When I was ready to serve I heated about 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a non-stick skillet until the butter melts and added in 4 of the risotto cakes. Cook over medium heat until the outsides are golden brown and they are heated through so the cheese melts in the center, this takes only 5-6 minutes total. This was really a good way to do it. In the past I have made these, coating them with flour, egg and regular bread crumbs, I have to say this is a much better way of doing it.

Trumpet Mushrooms
I saw these mushroom at Whole Foods and they looked very fresh. I had never had them and I am still exploring different mushrooms to find the ones I like. They are expensive per pound but I only needed a little bit to go along side our dinner and they don't weigh very much. And that is what Friday Night is all about, spending a little bit more and trying really good and different stuff, instead of going out and spending even more. Well I am happy to say it was a good choice. I did cook them in really good European style butter and a little olive oil but they tasted buttery, I think on there own, and they were very nice, Tony loved them. So what I did was cook them until they were done and I put in some baby spinach and 30 seconds later it was done. I put that combination on the plate and put the chicken over it. Very nice!

Caramel Brownies with Fleur de Sel and Deep Fried Dulce de Leche Ice Cream

On the show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate", someone was saying they loved the brownies at this place in NYC, where they made these brownies and layered in the middle of the batter some caramel sauce. I saw that episode a few weeks ago and I have been thinking about them ever since. I gave it a go and they were tremendous brownies but the layer of caramel got lost in the batter somehow. They showed them pouring in the caramel before baking them off and I think they made a thicker caramel and maybe they put more than I did. Then I thought well I can't just have a brownie for dessert on a Friday Night so I thought of every one's favorite cream... but what can I do different? "How about fried ice cream, I have heard of it, I never did that"!! So I looked it up and came across some "You Tube" videos and basically there are two ways of doing it. You can either cover a scoop of ice cream with slices of pound cake and fry it or do what I did and that was coating it with corn flakes mixed with a little bit of sugar then egg wash then more cornflakes and sugar, freezing the balls between to make sure they are really hard and frozen then you fry them in canola oil very quickly (before any ice cream leaks out and splashes everywhere). I did it and in 30 seconds they were golden brown and delicious. It was interesting but I don't know if I would do it again, I am happy with just a scoop of ice cream. But now I can check -Fried Ice Cream- off the list.