All Posts Tagged ‘Sunday Dinner

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sunday dinner: ricotta toast with lemon, basil & honey

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Confession: I spent four hours at brunch today. There was champagne and oysters and an over the top fancy Upper East Side location. There were socialites and wannabe socialites and older men with uncomfortably young ‘companions’ and botox as far as the eye could see. Also, André Leon Talley. And it was glorious. And all of this was after a breakfast of bacon and eggs and my breakfast food soulmate, a perfectly toasted english muffin. Go big or go home, am I right?

Needless to say, it was a day of indulgence, so by the time I got around to planning dinner, I just couldn’t commit to a full meal. I couldn’t go entirely without food, that’s just silly; but I didn’t need a meat and potatoes situation.

Enter ricotta toast. It’s light and crunchy and creamy and perfect for when you’re in the mood for snacking. Add in basil and lemon zest for freshness and a little pepper and honey to round it out. Simple and delicious and just filling enough for a day that mostly consisted of eating fancy food surrounded by fancy people.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Ricotta Toast with Lemon, Basil & Honey

sourdough bread (two slices per person)
ricotta cheese
4-6 leaves fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest
extra virgin olive oil
honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Set your oven on broil and move one rack to the top position. While the oven is warming, brush each slice of bread on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When the oven is ready, place the slices of bread directly on the oven rack and toast until golden brown, approximately two minutes per side. Watch the bread closely; they can go from nicely browned to burnt in a matter of seconds.

Remove toast from the oven, and when it’s cool enough to handle, spread a liberal amount of ricotta on each slice. Season with salt and pepper, then top with the chopped basil and lemon zest. Just before serving, drizzle with a touch of olive oil and honey.

I paired these little gems with some olives and cornichons (fancy French pickles are the business, no?) and a few slices of prosciutto. These would also go nicely with a bright, citrusy green salad or on their own with a crisp glass of rose.

It’s dinner but not — perfect for a day when you don’t want to commit to a full meal, when grazing is the name of the game. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: bucatini with butter-roasted tomato sauce.

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We are a Bon Appétit family. Some people are Food & Wine families, some people are Cook’s Illustrated or Saveur families, some people are like what are you talking about we don’t categorize ourselves by what cooking magazine we subscribe to, you crazy person. And that’s all fine.

But since I was a little kid, we’ve always been a Bon Appétit family. We’d sit around our kitchen island as a family and pour over the issue when it arrived each month, trying different recipes, the best of which were torn from the magazine and saved in my mother’s bubble gum pink recipe binder. We still have every November Thanksgiving issue, displayed proudly on a special shelf in my parents’ pantry. They are our culinary bibles. There are recipes from those issues that I know by heart, that I cherish on the same level as family mementos. They are my family mementos. When I went off to college, it wasn’t with a subscription to Cosmo or Seventeen or Us Weekly, it was with a subscription to Bon Appétit. The one that I still have today, 16 years later.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce is one of my favorite BA recipes from recent years, one that I make on Sundays when I want something simple and satisfying, and when I want my apartment to smell like my non-existent Italian grandmother has been cooking all day. Except she hasn’t because this baby is ready and on the table in under an hour.

Is there a better culinary phrase than ‘butter-roasted’? I think not. It implies homey, rich, comforting. And when you combine it with the sweetness of roasted tomatoes, the umami of garlic and anchovies (it’s not fishy, I promise), and the toothsome quality of bucatini (spaghetti’s portlier cousin), it makes for a hearty, warm dish with just a hint of spice.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

You will need:

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash of balsamic vinegar
12 oz. box of bucatini (spaghetti also works)
Grated parmesan reggiano

Kitchen equipment: 13×9 inch baking dish, large pot for cooking pasta

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is warming, open your can of tomatoes and using your hands, crush the tomatoes and place them in the baking dish. Be careful as you do this; the tomatoes are likely to squirt juice all over the place as you crush them, potentially ruining your kitchen counter and/or your favorite Sunday sweater. Aprons all around, mmm’k?

Once all the tomatoes are properly crushed, discard the tomato liquid and the can. Next, peel and trim your garlic cloves and give them a good whack with the back of your chef’s knife to crush them. The original recipe that was my inspiration for this called for eight cloves — that’s a little too aggressive for me, so I ended up using six. If you love garlic, go for the full eight; if you want a milder garlic flavor, maybe only use four. You do you.

Add the crushed garlic cloves to the tomatoes, spreading evenly in a single layer across the dish. Next, toss in two anchovy fillets, then add the butter cubes, nestling them into the tomatoes in an even layer. Finally, top with the red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper.

When the oven is ready, place your baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes, stirring once about half way through the cooking time.

While the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of salted water on high until boiling, then add your pasta and cook per package instructions. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

When the sauce is done, the garlic should be very soft and the tomatoes should look a bit like jam. Remove from the oven, and using a fork or a potato masher, blend the sauce to mash the garlic and the tomatoes. Add a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate. This adds a bit of sweetness to balance the salty/buttery flavor of the anchovies and the, well, butter.

To finish the dish, add the cooked sauce and the reserved pasta water to the pasta in the pot and heat on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, stirring and tossing regularly. When the sauce clings to the pasta and the pasta water is cooked down, you’re good to go.

Plate the pasta and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a full-bodied red wine and a crusty baguette…and perhaps the new issue of Bon Appétit. You know that’s what I’ll be doing.

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sunday dinner: baked mac & cheese with brussels sprouts and bacon.

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Let’s talk about the word ‘umami’. It’s a good word. Rolls off the tongue with ease, sounds vaguely foreign (it is, it’s Japanese) and you’ve likely heard it before but aren’t sure what it actually means.

Umami can be roughly translated as ‘pleasant savory taste’ and since 1985, it has been classified as the fifth of five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter and salty — thanks Wikipedia). It’s that salty, earthy, meaty taste that doesn’t quite fit into any of the other categories.

It’s also the BEST. I heart umami hard.

Why? Because it’s just so gosh darn satisfying. It lights up your taste buds like a Christmas tree and makes you audibly ‘YUM’. It also makes you naturally salivate more, which is a signal to your brain that you find what you’re eating quite delicious (if we’re getting really technical). Basically, five stars for umami all around.

And the best way to capture that umami-ness? Mac & Cheese. Even better? Add bacon and brussels sprouts (say whaaat?!). This rich, cozy casserole is packed with flavor of the umami variety and it’s sure to satisfy, especially on cold nights like the ones we’ve been having here in NYC (winter is coming, ho hum).

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You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Baked Mac & Cheese with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

1 pound of cooked pasta (macaroni or fusilli work nicely)
5-6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound brussels sprouts, stems removed and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup half & half
6 ounces gruyere cheese, freshly grated
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
2 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons regular fine breadcrumbs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen equipment: large pot, cast iron skillet, heavy-bottomed saucepan, cheese grater

First things first, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large pot of salted water on the stove until boiling, then cook the pasta per the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Next, heat a large, oven-safe skillet (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat and add the bacon and cook until the fat is just rendered. Rendered, you say? What, pray tell, is that? It is a fancy way of saying cook the bacon until the fatty part starts to melt and you’re left with mostly just the meaty part. Should only take a few minutes. Once properly rendered, remove ¼ of the bacon and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Cook the remaining bacon to your preferred stage of doneness (anywhere between chewy and aggressively crispy). Add the shallot and garlic to the bacon and cook 1-2 minutes until translucent and fragrant. Add the brussels sprouts, stirring well to coat. Cook them until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

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Side note: you can totally abandon the bacon and make this dish veg — it’s just as good meat free. Instead of using the bacon fat to cook the shallots/garlic/brussels, sub in a few tablespoons of olive oil and you’re all set.

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And now we make the cheese sauce. CHEESE SAUCE. Best phrase ever, no?

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To start, heat your heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until hot, then add the butter. Melt until sizzling and frothy, then add the flour and whisk constantly until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. This creates the roux (so many fancy words!) that is the foundation of any good creamy sauce — it will thicken the sauce and add a lovely nutty flavor. Once the roux is ready to go, take your pan off the stove and pour in the milk and the half & half. Place your pan back on the stove and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Add in all but one ounce of the gruyere, cheddar and parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted. Add the nutmeg and cayenne and season with salt and pepper. Once the cheese is melted, add the cooked pasta and stir to incorporate. Pour the pasta and sauce over the brussels sprouts in the skillet and toss well to combine. Sprinkle the leftover cheese on top, then add the panko and breadcrumbs. Finally, add the reserved bacon you set aside earlier on top of the breadcrumbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.

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This is fantastic straight from the oven or at room temperature or warmed up later the same night or warmed up the next day or eaten with your hands cold over the sink for breakfast (too far?). Fine. Let’s just say it’s good all the time.

Get down with your cheesy, brussel-y, bacon-y self and you’ll see. Umami forever. Enjoy!

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sunday dinner: pan sautéed chicken breasts with creamy mushrooms & shallots.

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We turned a new leaf in New York today. Daylight Savings Time is no longer and it was “aggressively crisp” out of doors (read: it was cold as balls). The wind whipped this way and that, and while the sun shone bright, its warmth was felt by few. I hate to say that winter is right around the corner, but today was the first day that made that feel like a reality.

When it comes to dinner, this weather brings in me a desire for something rich, something heartwarming. I want something along the lines of Thanksgiving dinner but without the three days of prep (Thanksgiving, my very favorite day of the year, is a few short weeks away, and I. AM. PUMPED).

This chicken dish is the perfect answer to my cravings; it’s deliciously full of rich, umami flavor but comes together quickly and easily. Also, BUTTER. Live it. Love it.

Side note: if you double the mushroom/shallot recipe, it’s a killer Thanksgiving side dish. Or any day side dish. YUM.

But I digress.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pan Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Mushrooms & Shallots

You will need:

2 chicken breasts
4 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, thinly sliced into rings
12 oz assorted mushrooms, sliced (such as baby portabellas, shitake, or oyster)
½ cup white wine (or chicken stock)
½ cup heavy cream
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
All purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grab your chicken breasts and place them between two pieces of plastic wrap on your cutting board. Pound the breasts to thin them out slightly using a meat tenderizer or a heavy-bottomed glass. Next, remove the plastic wrap and season your breasts with salt and pepper on both sides. Put a handful or two of flour in a large plastic bag or on a plate, and dredge the chicken in the flour, thoroughly coating both sides.

Heat a sauté pan on medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts, shaking off any excess flour before adding to the pan, and cook until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.

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Next, add two of the tablespoons of butter to the same pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme to the pan with the rest of the butter and season with salt and pepper. Sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until cooked down and soft (add more butter along the way if pan gets too dry).

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Remove the pan from the heat and add the wine or chicken stock to deglaze. Return the pan to the stove and cook down until the alcohol evaporates. Remove the pan from the stove again and add the cream. Return it to the stove, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the chicken back to the pan. Simmer until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately.

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I paired my chicken with these babies, one of my very favorite sides EVAH (I worship at the altar of Ina Garten).

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Add your favorite glass of wine and you’re all set with a cozy meal that is rich and earthy and delicious — one that tastes much more complex than the actual execution of the dish.

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I went crazy and made myself a little apple galette for dessert…but that’s a recipe for another day.

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sunday dinner: pork chops with onions & apples and spice roasted squash.

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I woke up this morning to the first truly Fall day. The air was crisp and chilly, the sun was bright, the breezes were a-blowin’ and I had a deep, intimate desire to wear flannel. And so I did.

I also had a deep, intimate desire to cook something Fall-ish. Fall-esque. All Fall, all the time. I wanted to put all that crisp and chilly and bright and breezy and flannel-y on a plate. And so I did.

In my family, there were a few ingredients that started to show up regularly as the leaves began to turn — Apples. Onions. Squash. Spices like thyme and bay leaves. And wouldn’t you know it? They all go beautifully together and they all go beautifully with pork, my very favorite protein.

The following recipe will produce a simple, flavorful, and dare I say, elegant, interpretation of the best of Fall’s offerings. It’s hearty and delicious, and save for some extended stove time for the onions and apples, it’s easy to pull off even for the novice cook.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Chops with Caramelized Onions & Apples

You will need:

1 pork chop per person, about ¾ – 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons butter
2 large red onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 apples (fuji, honey crisp or gala are great), cut into ¼ inch matchsticks
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup apple cider (you can also use white wine, beer, or chicken stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Spice Roasted Squash

1 acorn or carnival squash, cut into 1-inch thick wedges (this will serve up to 4 people, double the recipe if you are serving a bigger crowd)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Kitchen tools: cast iron skillet or sauté pan, baking sheet, kitchen tongs, kitchen timer

Most of the prep for this dish is remarkably easy and comes together very quickly. The onions and apples will take the most time, so let’s start there.

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After you’ve sliced your onions and apples, heat a skillet or sauté pan on medium heat until hot. Add the butter and stir until melted. Next, add the onions and apples, the thyme, and the bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan with a lid half way and set a timer for 35 minutes. Don’t fully walk away from the stove — you’ll need to stir your onion/apple mixture every few minutes to ensure they don’t burn, but it’s a pretty low maintenance gig.

While your onions and apples are cooking, you can get to prepping your squash.

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Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Slice your squash in half (this will take a good chef’s knife and some muscle, so don’t be shy) and using a sharp-edged spoon, scoop out the seeds and inner flesh. You could save the squash innards and probably find a million recipes on pinterest for ‘delicious roasted squash seeds!’ but ain’t nobody got time for that…says the girl who hand braided the lattice on this pie.

Anyhoo, toss the innards unless you’re going to make Pinterest magic, and slice the squash into wedges that are about 1-inch thick. Throw ‘em in a big bowl and add the olive oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Using your trusty kitchen tongs (I could seriously write an ode to mine; they are hands down my favorite kitchen utensil) toss the squash wedges with the oil and spices until thoroughly coated on all sides. If you don’t have tongs, you can use two forks or spoons, but I wouldn’t use your hands given the addition of the cayenne.

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Spread your squash evenly on a baking sheet, and when your oven is ready, cook for 30 minutes, turning once at the halfway point.

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They are done when the squash is golden brown and you can easily pierce them with a fork. Remove from the oven and set aside, covering with a large piece of tin foil to keep warm.

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By now, your onions and apples should have hit the 30 minute mark and should be cooked down by quite a bit. You’ll probably need to cook them an additional 10 minutes until they are further reduced and starting to brown. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.

At this point, add the balsamic vinegar and stir to incorporate, making sure to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring often, until the balsamic is reduced and the onions/apples are a rich purply-brown color. Turn off the stove and remove from the heat; set aside to cool slightly.

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We’re in the home stretch now and all we need to do is cook the pork. Remove your pork chops from the refrigerator and set out on a plate for a few minutes, seasoning generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the onions and apples and heat a tablespoon of olive oil on high heat until the oil shimmers.

Add the pork and cook for three minutes, then flip and cook an additional three minutes (the easiest way to do this is to set a timer and DON’T TOUCH your pork during this time, it’s the best way to get a good sear). Add the cider to the pan with the pork and a few big spoonfuls of the onion/apple mixture. Cook pork for an additional five minutes, then flip and cook for another two minutes.

Remove pork from the pan to a serving platter and pour the pan sauce over the top. Top with more of the onion/apple mixture, and dish up the squash along side. Serve immediately.

It will be as if Fall exploded in your kitchen. This meal is spicy and tangy and rich and earthy and positively cozy. Enjoy it with your favorite red wine or craft beer and savor what is simply the best of Fall on a plate. You can wear some flannel too, if you’d like. You know I did.

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sunday dinner: pork chile verde with potatoes.

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When I was a kid, I’m pretty sure my father’s list of priorities for raising a daughter were the following:

1. Raise me a in a loving, supportive home filled with laughter.
2. Teach me to value intelligence, self-sufficiency and hard work.
3. Build a deep love of spicy food as early in my life as possible.

Food with flavor and spice was always a mainstay in my house growing up, and spicy food (‘food that’ll make your hair sweat,’ as my father describes it) was on the menu regularly. It didn’t take much for me to love it quickly, further proving I am my father’s daughter, and I maintain a love of it to this very day. It’s like, if food doesn’t smack you across the face with flavor every once in awhile, why even bother?

When I think about some of my favorite spicy dishes, pork chile verde is right at the top of the list. It’s that perfect blend of spicy and sweet and tart; the layers of flavor just bowl me over. Stewing the pork and chilies together for a few hours produces a rich concoction that pairs beautifully with rice or tortillas or both. It’ll leave you a little tingly, as if you’ve received a big ol’ warm, stew-y hug.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Pork Chile Verde with Potatoes

You will need:

3 – 3½ pounds pork butt or shoulder, excess fat removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large poblano peppers
4 serrano peppers
1 pound tomatillos, husks and stems removed
5-6 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (or ¾ teaspoon Italian oregano)
2 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2½ – 3 cups chicken stock

3 medium yukon gold potatoes

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Serve with:

avocado salsa (chopped avocados mixed with salt/pepper, lime juice and chopped cilantro)
cooked white rice
warmed flour tortillas

Kitchen utensils: baking sheet, heavy duty aluminum foil, tongs, large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven

You’ll have to do a bit of prep work before you get to stewin’, so let’s do it. Move one of your oven racks to the top position, turn your oven on to the broiler setting and let it get nice and hot. Take your baking sheet and cover it with one sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Lay your chilies out on the baking sheet, spaced evenly so they’re not touching.

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When the oven is hot, put the baking sheet on the top rack and let your peppers cook for five minutes, then using your tongs, turn the chills over and cook for an additional five minutes. The chilies will start to blister and turn black, but they should not char or burn, so make sure you’re watching them closely. Once fully roasted (this should only take about 10-15 minutes total), remove from oven and place in a paper or plastic bag, closing tightly. Leave the chilies in the bag to cool; they will steam in their own heat which will make it easy to remove the skin. When cool, remove the skins and most of the seeds (the more seeds you leave, the spicier it will be), roughly chop the chilies, and set aside.

Next, score your tomatillos (cut an X on the top of each) and place on the same baking sheet as the chilies. Put back in the hot oven and cook for three minutes, then flip using your tongs, and cook another 3-5 minutes until charred. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Once cool, roughly chop and place in a bowl with any leftover juices.

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Next, you need to prep your pork. Grab your pork butt (heh, heh) and a sharp chef’s knife and slice your pork against the grain in about 1-inch thick slices. Trim the excess fat from each slice, then cut each slice into small chunks, about 1-inch square. You want to cut your meat in as uniform pieces as possible, as this will ensure that your meat cooks evenly. Pat your pork pieces with a dry paper towel and season with salt and pepper and set aside.

The last bit of prep work is to chop your onion and garlic, setting aside until you need them.

Now, take your big pot or dutch oven, add a few tablespoons of canola oil, and heat over high heat until the oil shimmers. Working in batches, brown your pork in the pot making sure not to add too much at one time. Don’t crowd your meat, people! This is bad news bears — if you dump the pork in all at once, the water in the meat will steam it, which will get in the way of you achieving a beautiful brown sear that takes flavor up about 78 notches. If you add fewer pieces of meat to the pot at a time, it has room to brown nicely, which you’ll thank me for later. As each batch finishes, use your tongs to transfer to a bowl and set aside. Just a warning, as the pork browns it will splatter, so be careful not to burn yourself. Using longer tongs is a great way to tend to your pork without getting within oil splatter territory.

Once all of the meat is cooked, in the same pot, turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Cook about five to seven minutes until translucent and fragrant (is there anything better than the smell of onions cooking? I think not.) Next, add the garlic, cumin, oregano, bay leaves and cinnamon stick and stir to incorporate. Add the cider vinegar and deglaze the pot, scraping up all the brown bits on the bottom that are packed with flavor.

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Add the pork back to the pot, then add the chicken stock and the honey. Turn the heat back to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for about two hours until pork is tender. Check in on the pot every once in awhile during this time and give it a stir to ensure that it doesn’t burn and that everything cooks evenly.

Chop your potatoes and add them to the stew at the two-hour mark. If the stew is looking a little thick, you can add a bit more chicken stock (about a 1/2 cup). Stir to incorporate, making sure the potatoes are covered by the stew. Cook an additional 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

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If you’re serving with rice, now’s a great time to cook it; same goes for prepping the avocado salsa.

Once everything is ready to go, warm some tortillas in damp paper towels in the microwave for 45 seconds. Add rice to each bowl and spoon stew over the top. Add a spoonful of avocado salsa and you’re good to go.

This stew is hearty and flavorful and will pack a good amount of heat. It also gets better with time — the few days after I make this, it usually shows up in many a leftover meal — you can make tacos or burritos, serve it with eggs for breakfast, or serve just as is, maybe with some corn bread. It’s all good, and it’s sure to make your hair sweat in the best possible way.

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sunday dessert: concord grape pie.

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Confession: I ate a grape from the farmers market this week.

And truth be told, it sent me into a tailspin. I’d been living a lie. My entire life, wasting my time eating store-bought grapes with their tough skins and their chalky aftertaste and their mild, some might say, boring flavor. How did I not know that grapes should be better than that? That they should be sweet and tart and juicy and a little slimy, but such a good kind of slimy that you don’t want to stop eating them ever!

It only took one tiny from-the-farm grape to change my life.

Which of course set me on a mission to discover what I could do with these gorgeous creatures. And I discovered that you can do quite a bit with them, actually. I also discovered that now, right now, is the height of the grape season (grapes have seasons?) in the northeast, so these are the best of the best.

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And what do you do with the best of the best? Well, you bake a pie, naturally. Apparently this is also a thing in New York. The Concord Grape Pie Queen, Miss Irene Bouchard, lives about 300 miles northwest of New York City in the town of Naples, and she’s been baking grape pies since the dawn of time (or the early ‘70s, but I’m going for high drama today). I’m not sure how she got that title or why, but I like to think she relishes it, baking pies in her purple house, wearing her purple dresses, living that purple life. You know.

The recipe below is adapted from her original recipe via Saveur magazine, using my own crust recipe since I love it so very much.

Are you ready? OK, let’s do this.

Concord Grape Pie

For the Crust

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, chilled
½ cup shortening, chilled
½ cup ice water

For the Filling

2 pounds concord grapes
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

Let’s focus on the filling first. Your grapes have seeds in them, which would not be delicious in a pie, so you need to remove the seeds from the grapes before you make the pie filling. You’ll be performing ‘grape surgery’ of sorts, which sounds very strange, but I promise it’s incredibly straightforward and easy. Grab two medium-large bowls and your grapes (which should be washed clean and dry at this point) and set yourself up at the kitchen table. Take a grape between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze lightly. The green inside of the grape should loosen easily from the skin; plop it into one of the bowls and throw the skin in the other bowl. Grab another grape, squeeze out the insides into one bowl, throw the skin in the other bowl. You get the idea. Keep doing this until you’ve separated all of your grapes, discarding any that are overly soft or brown. In the end you should have one bowl full of green insides and one bowl full of skins, like zees:

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Set the bowl of grape skins aside and grab your bowl of grape insides. Empty the grape insides into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The grape pulp will start to bubble and foam a bit, and you will start to see the seeds separate from the pulp.

When the grape pulp is fully cooked, pour it into a fine mesh strainer over the bowl of grape skins, and taking a large spoon or spatula, push the pulp through the strainer into the bowl with the skins. You’ll be left with a strainer full of seeds, which you can discard.

Stir the grape skins and strained pulp to combine, add the tapioca and the sugar, and stir again. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and stick in the refrigerator to cool.

Now to the crust! you know how I feel about homemade pastry crust (in that I AM A BELIEVER), and you’ve heard me say it before that the key to a beautiful flaky crust is keep your wet ingredients (butter, shortening, water) as cold as possible throughout the process.

Grab a large bowl and add the flour, sugar and salt and stir to combine. Add your chilled shortening and butter, and using a pastry cutter or two forks (but NOT your hands), mix the butter/shortening into the dry ingredients until you get something resembling coarse meal. You should still have pea-sized bits of butter; that’s where the magic happens. Add the ice water and mix until the dough just starts to come together. Split the dough in two, one ball slightly larger than the other, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

During my rest time, I watched two episodes of ER, which I haven’t watched since it was originally on TV twenty years ago and, boy, am I hooked. Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross forever, y’all.

OK, back to baking, she says reluctantly. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

When your dough and filling are properly chilled, take one of the balls of dough out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Lightly flour your counter top and your rolling pin, then using smooth motions in one direction, roll your dough out to a 12-inch circle. Roll the dough up on your rolling pin and transport to your pie dish; unroll and situate so it is centered over the dish. You will have some dough hanging over the edge, but don’t worry, we’ll deal with that later. Take your filling out and remove the plastic wrap, pouring your filling evenly into the pie crust.

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Now, take your second ball of dough, and as you did with the first, roll it out to a 12-inch circle. You can do a couple of different things at this point: you could do a simple top crust, a lattice crust (which I chose), or you could get all Martha Stewart fancy on it and make some artwork with your dough.

For a simple crust: cut a 1-inch hole in the center of your dough and lay the dough over the pie.

For a lattice crust: cut your dough into 1-inch strips, ten strips in total. Lay five strips vertically on top of the pie in equal intervals, then pull back the second and fourth strip. Lay one strip horizontally over the three remaining strips on the side of the pie closest to you. Replace the second and fourth strips and pull back the first, third, and fifth strips to the strip you just put down. Lay down a second strip horizontally, then replace the first, third and fifth strips. Alternate pulling the second/fourth and first/third/fifth strips until all of the remaining strips are placed on the pie. This video helps if the above is confusing.

For a fancy-schmancy crust: use cookie cutters of your choosing to make pretty shapes from the second piece of dough and transfer to a baking sheet. Refrigerate. When the pie comes out of the oven, adjust the temperature to 450 degrees and bake dough shapes for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool. When pie is cool and ready to be served, place shapes on top in a decorative fashion.

Trim the edges of your pie dough with a knife so it’s just beyond the edge of your pie dish. Folding over the trimmed edge, crimp the dough with your fingers all the way around your pie.

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Place on the middle rack of your oven, and bake for twenty minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 45-50 minutes until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

Remove from oven and cool.

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This pie packs a wallop of flavor and is best accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some freshly whipped cream. It’s grapes like you’ve never tasted them before — fresh, bright, tart and sweet at the same time. You’ll never go back to store-bought grapes again. I know I surely won’t.

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sunday (breakfast for) dinner: breakfast pizza, of sorts.

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Sometimes I like to mix it up. Turn things on their heads. Take a risk or two.

And when that comes to food, sometimes that means eating non-dinnery things for dinner. The horror! No, the delicious. I’ve always been a savory breakfast person — there’s just something about eggs and bacon and potatoes that gets me — and when you combine all three together, well that’s just magic. And, just my luck, they also make a fantastic dinner; just as hearty as more traditional options, cozy and satisfying to boot.

If you take it one step further and pop those wonderful ingredients on top of a pizza? Well, that’s just dreamy. Enhanced by the fresh flavors of basil and avocado, you’ve got yourself a treat that’s tasty morning, noon and night.

You ready? Let’s do this.

Breakfast Pizza with Bacon, Potatoes, Roasted Tomatoes & Avocado

You will need:

1 package ready made crescent roll dough
4 strips thick-cut bacon
1 cup frozen hash browns, thawed
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
5 eggs
¼ cup milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 avocado, chopped
1 lime, halved
4-5 basil leaves, chopped

Kitchen tools: 1 cast iron pan

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

First things first, fry your bacon. Heat your cast iron pan over medium-high heat until hot, then add the bacon and cook until desired doneness (I’m a chewy bacon girl myself, but if you’re a crispy bacon person, this is your show so go for it). Once cooked, remove bacon from the pan to a paper towel-lined plate. When cool, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Pour off most of the bacon grease (DO NOT pour down the drain; it’s best to pour into a small bowl or glass to cool, then throw in the trash once cooled and solidified), then using a paper towel spread the remaining grease around the pan. This will ensure that your pizza doesn’t stick once baked.

Then, in a medium bowl, crack the eggs and whisk in the milk and half the grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

Next, remove your crescent roll dough from the package, unroll, and spread the dough around the pan. Since the dough is square and the pan is round, you will have some excess corners to deal with; you can stretch these and pull them around the sides to create a thicker outer crust.

IMG_0838Once the dough is situated, sprinkle the hash browns over the dough, followed by the bacon, then the tomatoes.

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Pour the egg mixture over the pizza, being careful to keep it inside the dough. Top the egg mixture with the rest of the grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

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Bake on the middle rack of your oven for 30-35 minutes until the crust is golden brown, the cheese is bubbling slightly, and the egg mixture is solid in the center. Remove from the oven to cool slightly. While cooling, chop the avocado and squeeze the lime juice over the top to prevent browning. Chop the basil and sprinkle over the top of the pizza.

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To serve, cut pizza into wedges with a sharp knife. Spoon the avocado over the top of the pizza and dig in. Salty, cheesy, herby, creamy. Whether for breakfast, brunch, or dinner — this one’s a delicious winner.

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sunday dinner: summer dinner party menu.

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According to the Department of Labor website:

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

The first Labor Day was celebrated in September 1882 in New York City (we’re early adopters here in the Big Apple), and with what better way to celebrate than…a picnic.

And why not? The farmer’s markets this time of year are positively bursting with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and the weather is just begging you to spend as much time outside as possible. Throw in the modern upgrade of a three-day weekend, and we’ve got a party, folks.

Consider this menu an elevated version of the original Labor Day picnic. You’ve got your spicy oven fried chicken — a twist on an American classic, paired with roasted corn salad and some simply dressed fresh tomatoes, both enhanced by the addition of freshly chopped herbs. Finish the day with an oat cake overflowing with blueberries and blackberries — a simple, homey treat that highlights the best of the season.

Now, full disclosure here, you don’t have to make all of this menu for dinner. If you want to make any of these individually, you can use any of the following recipes: chicken, corn, tomatoes, blueberry oat cake. But. If ever there was a more perfect combination than these best of summer flavors, I don’t know about it, so I highly encourage you to attempt the full menu.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spicy Oven Fried Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned and fat trimmed
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
hot sauce
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roasted Corn with Fresh Herbs & Lime Butter

6-8 ears of corn, in the husk
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as basil, sage, tarragon, chives, flat-leaf parsley)
1 large clove garlic, minced
juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Farmer’s Market Tomato Salad

1 container mixed small farmer’s market tomatoes (such as cherry or pear), halved
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blueberry & Blackberry Oat Cake

½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
¾ cup flour, plus more for pan
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons quick-cooking oats, divided
2/3 cups water
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups mixed blueberries and blackberries
2 tablespoons course sanding sugar

Kitchen items needed: large shallow bowl or baking dish, two large sealable plastic bags, large baking sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper, metal tongs, 8×8 square baking pan

Prepping and cooking a dinner party menu is all about timing. For everything to come to the table at the same time, it requires a little multi-tasking, and you’re not going to be cooking one thing at a time. You’ll likely be cooking one thing and prepping another with the goal that all is beautiful and ready to be served without spending too much time resting or cooling to a less than ideal temperature. Follow me, and you’ll be a master at this balancing act in no time.

With that in mind, we’re going to tackle dessert first (life is uncertain, etc., etc.). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab your 8×8 square baking pan and a stick of butter and rub butter over the bottom and the four sides of the pan (do not use the entire stick, this is not Paula Deen’s kitchen). Then, throw a tablespoon or two of flour in your pan and toss it around until the pan is thoroughly coated. Discard the excess flour, tapping the side of the pan a few times. You really only want a thin layer of flour and butter so the cake doesn’t stick to the pan when it bakes.

Measure out 1 cup of oats and combine with the water; set aside to soften.

Grab two large mixing bowls, in one whisk together all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon). In the other, combine your butter and sugars (granulated and brown) and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes (you can do this in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or by hand with a fork, depending on how equipped your kitchen is). Once the butter/sugar mixture is creamy and light in color, add egg and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in small quantities until thoroughly combined, then mix in the softened oats. Fold in about half of the berries, being careful not to crush them.

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Spread batter in your buttered & floured baking pan, using your spatula to evenly distribute. Top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oats and the sanding sugar, then top with the rest of the berries. Place on the center rack of your preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with some moist crumbs. Set aside to cool.

With dessert covered, let’s turn to the chicken. Clean and trim your chicken so any excess fat is removed, and place your chicken thighs in a shallow bowl or baking dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and douse each thigh with a few shakes of hot sauce. Cover the chicken with one cup of buttermilk, ensuring that the thighs are completely submerged in the milk. Cover dish lightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate.

Once your cake is out of the oven, turn the temp up to 450 degrees. Grab your corn and trim any excess husk or silk but do not remove the husk completely. Cooking the corn in the husk allows it to roast and steam at the same time, which delivers a sweet and juicy result. Once heated, place your corn directly on the oven rack, using two racks if necessary to ensure no cobs are touching each other. Roast for 30 minutes. The husks will brown and your kitchen will smell a little like a camp fire, but this is no cause for concern. It is merely one stop on the journey to delicious.

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At this point, you’re about half way to showtime, and you look gaaawwww-geous, daaaaahling.

While the corn is roasting, let’s make us some lime butter. Mince your garlic and place in a small mixing bowl. Juice the limes and add to the garlic, and then add the salt and pepper. Melt the stick of butter (in the microwave is easiest), then while whisking constantly, add the melted butter to garlic-lime mixture in a slow stream until completely combined and emulsified. Set aside until ready for use.

When the corn is completely roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on a baking sheet. Once cool enough to handle, remove husks and using a sharp chef’s knife, remove kernels from each cob and place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside until ready for use.

And now, it’s chicken time. First, turn your oven down to 375 degrees.

Next, grab two large sealable plastic bags — in the first, add the flour and season with salt and pepper; in the second, add the panko breadcrumbs, the cajun seasoning, the smoked paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Take your marinating chicken out of the refrigerator, and using tongs or a fork, remove the thighs from the milk, shaking a bit to remove excess liquid, and place them on a large plate. Dump the marinade and rinse out your dish, then to it add the other 1/2 cup of buttermilk, the two eggs, a few healthy dashes of hot sauce and season with salt and pepper. Whisk quickly with a fork to break down the eggs and combine with the buttermilk.

Now, you’re going to set up an assembly line of sorts in the following order: your plate of chicken thighs, the bag with flour, the buttermilk-egg mixture, the bag with the breadcrumbs, then a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper or tin foil. Using your metal tongs, grab two to three chicken thighs and place them in the bag with the flour. Seal the bag and toss the chicken thighs until thoroughly coated in flour. Use your tongs to remove the thighs from the bag (shaking to remove excess flour) and place them in the buttermilk-egg mixture. Thoroughly coat the thighs in the mixture, then transfer them to the bag with the breadcrumbs. Seal the bag and shake to coat all sides of the thighs with the spiced breadcrumb mixture. Finally, grab your thighs from the breadcrumb mixture and place, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet. Repeat this assembly line until all thighs are properly ‘dressed’ and placed on the baking sheet (don’t do too many thighs at once so as not to gum up the flour or the breadcrumbs).

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Bake the chicken for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear.

While the chicken is baking, slice the tomatoes and chop the herbs for the corn and the tomatoes. You don’t want to give the herbs the opportunity to wilt, so all of this should be put together at the last minute. Place your chopped tomatoes in a serving bowl and drizzle a little olive oil and white balsamic over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

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When your chicken has about five minutes left on the clock, mix the lime butter with the corn, then add the fresh herbs and toss to incorporate. Add the other fresh herbs to the tomatoes and toss lightly.

Remove chicken from oven and transfer immediately to a serving platter. Bring everything to the table, crack open a bottle of wine (hopefully you did this awhile ago, but if not, now’s the perfect time — I’m LOVING this rosé right now), and dig in.

The crunch of the chicken with the fresh, limey flavor of the corn and the sweetness of the tomatoes are just the absolute best flavor combination. This menu truly celebrates the best of summer and should leave any guests ‘ooohing’ and ‘ahhhing’ well after the sun goes down.

Serve the berry oat cake for dessert — it’s sweet enough that you don’t need any accompaniments — and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, this is pure magic with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next morning.

Truth be told, I want to eat this meal every weekend, surrounded by friends and family, laughing and rollocking and just livin’ life. It will be a bright, happy memory to revive in the dark winter months when a fresh, juicy tomato is but a dream.

Until then, enjoy the last few beats of this glorious season with some fresh food, some good wine, and some great company. That, my friends, is just perfect.

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sunday dinner: best of summer salad & avocado feta toasts.

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It’s that time of year, folks. The dog days of summer — that perfect time when the days are long and the sun is high and clouds are sparse. The summer in New York has been glorious, GLORIOUS I tell you, which is completely unexpected and I thank my lucky stars each and every day for such atypical temperatures. This is my kind of polar vortex, people.

This time of year also means that when I food shop, I’m spendin’ my dollahs at the farmer’s market, y’all. The farm stands are positively bursting with fresh produce around here, and it is divine. You haven’t really eaten a tomato until you’ve eaten a farmer’s market tomato in the month of August. Real talk.

If you’re doing it right, meals this time of year require little cooking (if any) and they should heavily feature fresh vegetables (mostly tomatoes, the tomatoes in these parts are unreal this time of year). And this little ditty fits the bill just perfectly. The salad is fresh and bright (the addition of parsley and mint to the salad greens takes it to another level, promise), and the toasts round out the meal with creamy and salty and a little crunch. Roasting lemons was new for me, but it added such a lovely citrus flavor to the salad and also provided a bit of crunch — a new age crouton, if you will. If I had a back patio, I’d be enjoying this with a bottle of wine, a little Glenn Miller Orchestra Pandora station, and a summer sunset. Sososo good.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Best of Summer Salad with Roasted Lemons & Avocado Feta Toasts

Best of Summer Salad (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 carton mixed small tomatoes, halved
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large
1 cup arugula or other fresh salad greens
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roasted Lemons
1 lemon, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon Vinaigrette (adapted from Martha Stewart)
juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon course salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Avocado & Feta Toasts (makes 4 toasts)
2 slices multigrain bread, cut on the diagonal
½ avocado, sliced
4 slices feta cheese, preferably bulgarian feta but french or greek will do
8 arugula leaves
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

First things first. The lemons and the toasts are going to take the longest, so we need to get those going so we can focus on everything else. For the lemons, preheat the oven to 325 and at the same time, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, drop the lemon slices in the water and cook for two minutes. This takes the bitterness out of the lemons so when they roast, they’ll take on a sweet, citrus flavor. While the lemons are cooking, quickly chop the sage. Strain the lemons from the water and spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toss thoroughly with the sage, sugar and olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until dry and slightly browned.

Once the lemons are in the oven, grab another baking sheet and lay your toasts out in a single layer. Brush each toast with olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Place the toasts in the oven with the lemons and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the toasts are nicely brown and crisp.

While the lemons and toasts are in the oven, slice the tomatoes and onions and throw ’em in a big bowl with all of the greens (parsley, mint, arugula). Season veggies and greens with freshly ground salt and pepper and set aside.

Next, let’s make some vinaigrette. Now, you can totally use your favorite store bought dressing if you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own, but the freshness of this vinaigrette is the perfect compliment to the veggies and greens, so I highly recommend taking the time. The easiest way to make the dressing is to combine the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar or lidded container and shake to combine until the sugar and salt are dissolved into the liquid. Then, add the olive oil and shake again until combined. Taste and adjust ingredients if necessary.

When the lemons are fully cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool for approximately 10 minutes. Once cool enough to touch, remove from baking sheet and add to the bowl with the veggies and greens.

Finally, just before the toasts come out of the oven, slice the avocado and feta and set aside.

Dress the salad with your preferred amount of lemon vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Place one piece of feta and 1-2 slices of avocado on each toast, then top each toast with a few leaves of arugula. Drizzle each toast with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Serve toasts along side the salad, and don’t forget a big ol’ glass of wine (it’s summer, so rosé is the obvious choice). This meal is light but filling, the perfect celebration of summer’s best ingredients. Enjoy!

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