Saturday, October 30, 2010

Family Dinner

Sliced Grapes

My dad was back in town again this weekend, but this time all for pleasure, rather than mostly work like last time.  And this time, my mom came along too.  My Aunt Carol and Uncle Gary (Cousin Joe’s parents) drove over from Cincinnati also.  And we all met up on Friday night for a big pasta dinner at our place. 

Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes & Rosemary
Mixed Greens with Walnuts, Apples, Currants, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans, Garlic & Parmesan
Ciabatta Bread
Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies with Vanilla Cream Filling

As the out-of-towners made their way up the four flights of stairs to our too-high dwelling at the top of the building, they were led by the warm aroma of fresh baked bread and pungent rosemary wafting from the hot oven.  Timed just perfectly, the first flatbread pizzas was lifted from the oven just as our guests made it to our door, piping hot and filling the room with its thick, alluring fragrance.  The crust - delicate and crisp, with golden edges and a blistery bottom.  The crumbled gorgonzola - molten and oozing, melted into a delicious oblivion.  The sliced grapes – hot and sugary, like tiny neon pink coins.  And the rosemary infused olive oil, sharp and floral, an intoxicating elixir.  With all this goodness mixed together, we had on our hands a totally delicious, completely sensational pizza.  What a start to the night!

Ready to go into the oven

Pizza Fixin's

Following such a tough act, the mixed green salad more than held its own.  Chock full of all sorts of everything – thin crunchy slices of celery, licoricey fennel, warmly toasted walnuts, chewy dried currants, fresh parsley, tender tarragon, sweet apple slices, spicy red onion, translucent ribbons of nutty parmesan – every single bit yielded something delicious. 

Thinly-Sliced Celery

Toasted Walnuts

This pasta was just so amazingly tasty, I really can’t say enough about it.  One thing I can definitively say though is that it was just filled with shrimp.  My dad is a total shrimp freak, and so I boosted the shrimp factor as a treat for him.  But it’s not surprise that the extra heaps of shrimp meant a big treat for all of us.  And I’m not kidding about lots of shrimp.  The noodle to shrimp ratio was nearly one to one! 

Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans & Parmesan

All extreme shrimpiness aside, these saucy noodles alone were unbelievably good.  Springy tubes of noodles in a buttery brew of mellow garlic, with meltingly tender white beans, fresh specks of green parsley, gooey hints of melted parmesan, spicy kicks of crushed black pepper, briny undertones of clam juice and bright overtones of white wine and lemon.  All around the kitchen table, this was a fantastic hit.  I forgot to ask, but I’m pretty sure each and every one of us gave this dish a perfect ten.    


Speaking of perfect tens… these whoopie pies are definitely deserving of that exalted distinction too.   The intensely chocolaty, cake-like cookies (which are, I suppose, at least in this instance, officially pies – cake-like, cookie-looking pies) were so tender and unbelievably moist, just on the edge of gooey, with deep cocoa flavor and a soft, rich crumb, studded with bright, sugary flecks of candied orange.  All alone, they’re just about the best all in one cookie-cake-pie imaginable.  But take two of them, and stick them together with a fluffy vanilla bean cream in between, and they are, I do believe, just about the best whoopie pies in the world.  Suffice it to say, Whoopie!


Before I sign off today, I just want to wax sentimental a bit on candied orange peels, one of my absolute most favorite things in the world.  My love of this sparkling, sweet-tart treat stretches all the way back to my childhood.  In fact, the very first recipe I ever tried on my own was for candied orange peels.  (A bit of a dud, to tell the truth, as was my second cooking attempt, homemade ketchup.  It was my third try at cooking, a pie of wild black raspberries picked in my back yard, that sealed my future fate as a chef.  It’s to this day, the best thing I’ve ever made.)  Anyways, I’d seen the recipe for candied citrus in one of my mom’s cooking magazines, and to my eight year old eyes, these glittering strips of citrus looked like a homemade version of Sour Patch Kids.  I just had  to try them for myself.  Well, I can’t remember what went wrong exactly, but I do remember being pretty disappointed with the results.  And maybe nothing went wrong at all.  Maybe they turned out just how they were supposed to, just not enough like Sour Patches to satisfy my eager hopes.  But even with this disappointing first experience, my fascination with these shimmering citrus confections never waned.  Years later, I think it was in college, I finally came face to face with some true candied orange peels.  And they were everything I always knew they would be - sweet and sour and just a touch bitter, bursting with bright orange flavor, tender and a little chewy, with a rough, sticky coat of granulated sugar.  My faithful wait was finally over, and I’ve ever since been completely head over heels. 

Sliced Oranges


Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes & Rosemary
Makes four 10-inch round flatbreads
Flatbread with Gorgonzola, Grapes and Rosemary
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 full sprig fresh rosemary plus about 1 tsp finely chopped
about 8 oz gorgonzola cheese
about 1/2 pound grapes, washed and thinly sliced cross-wise
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make the dough:  Before starting with the rest of the recipe, you should have the dough all ready to go.  You can make it a few hours ahead of time, or even a full day before. 
Make the rosemary flavored olive oil: Combine the olive oil and rosemary sprig in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  As soon as the oil begins to sizzle and simmer, remove the pot from the heat.  Let stand at least an hour, to allow the rosemary flavor to infuse into the oil. 
Assemble & bake the flatbreads: Adjust an oven rack to the top-center position in the oven.  Place a pizza stone on the rack, and preheat the oven to 500°F.  (Allow about 1/2 hour for the oven to come to temp.)

Liberally dust a wooden pizza peel with semolina or cornmeal.  Roll and stretch out the dough into a 10-inch circle, pressing up the  sides to make a slight rim.  Place the dough on the dusted peel, and give it a shake back and forth, to make sure the dough is loose.  (If it isn’t, remove it and dust with more semolina/cornmeal.)  Cover the dough with a thin, damp towel and allow it to rest about 10-15 minutes.

Brush about 1 Tbl rosemary oil over the entire top surface of the dough.  Sprinkle about 1/4 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary evenly over the dough.  Crumble a quarter of the gorgonzola cheese (about 2 oz) evenly over the dough, then arrange a quarter of the sliced grapes evenly over the dough.

Using the pizza peel, put the pizza directly onto the hot pizza stone, giving the peel a jerk to slide the pizza onto the stone.  Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes.  Slide the peel under the pizza and lift it off the stone and out of the oven. 

Season the pizza with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil around the crust.  Slice into 6-8 pieces and serve hot.

Repeat these steps with the following three flatbreads. 

Mixed Greens with Walnuts, Apples, Currants, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
Serves 4 to 6
Salad with Walnuts, Apples, Currents, Celery, Fennel & Parmesan
For the vinaigrette:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 small clove garlic, peeled & finely minced
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar, thyme, minced garlic, a good pinch of salt and a good few grinds of pepper. Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour. This can be made ahead (but only by about a day, thanks to the raw yolk) and stored in an airtight container.
For the rest of the salad:
about 12 oz mixed baby greens (spinach, arugula, radicchio, frisee, mache, etc…)
6 sprigs tarragon, leaves plucked and stems discarded 
2 Tbl whole flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup walnuts, toasted
4 oz parmesan cheese, sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
2 medium stalks celery, very thinly sliced
1/2 small fennel bulb, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced and soaked in cool H2O for 15 min *
1/4 cup dried currants
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the greens, tarragon and parsley in a large mixing bowl.   Add most of the walnuts, parmesan, celery, fennel, red onion, currants and sliced apple.  (I say most  because you’ll want to keep a little bit left over to top the salad.  It’s always nice to have some of the pretty stuff right on top.) Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on top.  Don’t use it all here, just enough to thinly coat everything to your liking, and save the rest for a nice salad tomorrow.  Season with a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper.  Toss to coat thoroughly, and place onto salad plates or in a serving bowl.  Top with the rest of the walnuts, parmesan, celery, fennel, onion, currants & apple.  Serve immediately.
Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans, Garlic & Parmesan
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, November 2008 issue
Serves 4
 Shrimp Pasta & Sliced Ciabatta
1 1/2 pounds large (31-40 per pound) shrimp
6 medium-sized garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbl plus 2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound short, tubular pasta (I used mezze-rigatoni)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup clam juice
one 15-oz can Great Northern white beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (finely grated to a powder-like consistency), plus another
     1/2 cup or so (grated on the small holes of a box grater) for passing at the table
3 Tbl unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tsp lemon juice
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peel the shells and tails off of the shrimp.  Be careful not to rip off the entire tail while you’re removing the shell – An intact tail makes for a much prettier shrimp.   

De-vein the shrimp (i.e. remove the intestinal tract).  Use a paring knife to make a shallow slice along the center of the outer edge of the shrimp.  This will expose the dark grey ‘vein’ running along the length of the shrimp.  Scrape it out with the knife.  (You may not even have to do this.  Many times shrimp is already de-veined when you buy it.  If it hasn’t been de-veined, the outer edge of the shrimp will be intact, and you’ll see the vein just below the surface.  If it has been de-veined, a tell-tale slice will run down the edge of the shrimp.) 

Finely minced two of the garlic cloves and set aside.  Smash the remaining four garlic cloves with the broad side of a chef knife. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss the prepped shrimp with the minced garlic, 1 Tbl olive oil, and a good pinch of kosher salt.  Let marinate at room temperature for about half an hour, or in the refrigerator for up to four hours. 
In a very-large skillet, heat the four smashed gloves and the remaining 2 Tbl olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic is light golden brown and fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic from the skillet.  Set aside the skillet, and discard the garlic. 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Cook until just tender, then drain the pasta in a colander, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.  Transfer the cooked pasta back to the pot.
While the pasta cooks, place the skillet with the garlic-flavored oil over medium heat, and let sit for 1 minute.  Add the shrimp with its marinade to the pan, arranging it in a single layer if possible.  (If not possible, you’ll have to cook the shrimp in two batches.)  Cook the shrimp, undisturbed, until the shrimp starts to turn pink around the top edges, about 1-2 minutes.  Flip over the shrimp and continue to cook about 1 minute longer.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl. 
Add the red pepper flakes to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.  Stir in the white wine and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.  Add the clam juice and drained beans.  Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the half cup of finely grated parmesan and stir until melted into the sauce, about 3o seconds.  Turn off the heat, then stir in the butter, parsley and lemon juice. 
Add the shrimp and sauce to the pasta in the large cooking pot, and stir to combine.  Add the reserved cooking water if the sauce is too thick.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve hot.  Pass with the extra grated parmesan around the table.
Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies with Vanilla Cream Filling
Adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti
Makes about 15 Whoopie Pies
For the pies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1 Tbl instant espresso powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup whole milk
1 cup roughly chopped candied orange peel (which, don’t forget, must be made at least
     a day ahead)
Preheat the oven to 325°F and arrange the two racks in the mid-upper and mid-lower positions.  Line three sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt together into a medium-sized mixing bowl, then whisk by hand to combine.  In a second, larger mixing bowl, whisk to combine the sugar and egg.  In a third, medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the espresso powder with the boiling water.  Stir to dissolve then add the oil and milk and stir to combine. 
Add half of the flour mixture to the sugar-egg mixture and whisk to combine, then add the coffee-mixture to this and whisk again until smooth.  Add the rest of the flour mixture and whisk until just smooth.  Fold in the orange peel using a rubber spatula. 
Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons onto the parchment-lined sheet pans, spacing them about 2-inches apart.  Try to aim for 30 pies in all.
Bake, first two pans and then the one, until the pies are puffed and set, but still soft enough to hold a slight indentation when pressed with the fingertip, about 12 minutes.  Make sure to rotate the pans, switching positions and turning them 180°, about half-way through the baking time.  Let cool completely on the pans, placed on wire cooling racks. 
Whoopie Pie Cookies
Technically, though I wouldn’t advise it, the pies can be stored in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 1 weeks.  Make sure to place sheets of parchment paper between separate layers of the pies, to keep them from sticking together.  And even with this precaution, arranging one pie on top of the next like this tends to mar the smooth top surfaces of the cookie.  They’ll still be insanely yummy, but if aesthetics count to you, I’d advise storing these in a single layer with nothing (not even plastic wrap) touching their tops.  Alternatively, just don’t store them at all, and assemble the pies with the whipped cream filling soon after they cool.
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbl plus 1 tsp powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split length-wise
Combine the cream, vanilla extract and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with a whisk attachment.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture.  (Discard the remaining pod.)  Whisk on medium speed to medium-stiff peaks. 
Dollop a good scoop of cream onto the center of the bottom surface of one pie.  Top with a second pie, bottom side down, and press gently to adhere the filling to the pies.  Store, uncovered and in a single layer, in a cool place until serving. 
Candied Citrus Peels
Adapted from Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti
Candied Orange Peels
6 large oranges OR 4 medium Ruby Red grapefruits 
5 cups granulated sugar
4 1/4 cups water
2/3 cups light corn syrup
Cut the fruit into six equal wedges through the stem end.  Pull out the flesh of the fruit (the part we normally eat) and save for another use or a snack.  Leave the pithy white underside of the skin in place. 
1. Orange Slices
2. Orange Peels
Fill a large saucepot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Add the citrus peels to the boiling water.  Keep the heat on high, and allow the water to return to a boil, stirring occasionally.  As you wait for the water to boil, fill a large mixing bowl with ice water.  Drain the peels from the boiling water in a colander, then plunge the peels into the ice water.  (This is the first of three times you’re going to do all of this.  But don’t get ahead of yourself – step 3 is a little bit different.)
Refill the saucepot with water and bring to a boil again.  Drain the peels from the ice water, then again add them to the boiling water and wait for the water to return to a boil.  Drain the peels again, and then again plunge them into a new bowl of ice water. 
Refill the saucepot with water for a third time, and again bring to a boil over high heat.  This time, while you are waiting for the water to boil, slice off about half of the thickness of the white pith from each piece of citrus peel.  It’s best to use a thin, sharp, flexible knife to do this, such as a fillet knife.  Discard the slices of pith. 
Place the peels in the boiling water for a final time, and again return the water to the boil, then drain the peels from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water.  Drain them from the ice water when cooled. 

3. Orange Peels in Water, Bringing Back to a Boil
4. Peels with Pith Sliced Off
Now it’s time to candy the peels.  Stir together the sugar, water and corn syrup in a large saucepot.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.  Meanwhile, cut 2 rounds of parchment paper slightly wider than the circumference of the pot.  When the sugar syrup comes to a boil, add the citrus peels and bring back to a simmer.  Cover the peels with the 2 sheets of parchment paper, to keep them submerged in the sugar syrup.  Adjust the heat to low or medium-low to maintain a bare simmer.  Cook until the pith is soft and the peel begins to look translucent, about 1 hour 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and allow the citrus peels to cool in the sugar syrup, at room temperature overnight, with the parchment paper in place and undisturbed.
The next day, transfer the citrus peels and syrup to an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator.  The candied peels will keep indefinitely.
5. Orange Peels Simmering in Sugar Syrup, Covered with Parchment
6. Candied Orange Peels in Sugar Syrup 
For an extra special treat:
While you can use the candied citrus peels just as they are for recipes like the Chocolate-Orange Whoopie Pies, they’re really, especially lovely all on their own, dusted with sugar.  To do this, first remove the peels from the syrup.  Rinse off the syrup in cool running water.  Slice the pieces lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips.  Place a wire cooling rack over a parchment paper or foil-lined sheet pan, then arrange the strips of candied citrus over the rack.  Leave them at room temperature overnight, or until dry.  Place granulated sugar in a bowl. Add the dried peel, a few strips at a time, and toss to coat evenly with sugar.  Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place (but not in a refrigerator).
Air-Drying the Sliced Candied Orange Peels
Dipped In Sugar

Friday, October 22, 2010

Exceeding our Expectations

Butternut Squash Guts

This week I finally got the chance to prepare a few recipes I’d been wanting to try for a while, namely a butterscotch chiffon pie, and a pepper-eggplant confit.  I’ll tell you up front, they both turned out fabulously, meeting and exceeding my optimistic expectations.  But what’s even better, this week also gave us the chance to finally have over a couple we’d been wanting to get together with for a while now too, Ben’s co-worker Jennifer and her boyfriend Mike.  Once again, our patience was rewarded and out expectations of a good time were far exceeded.  The four of us, along with my dad who at the last minute ended up staying in town for an extra night, had a sensational time, and enjoyed a pretty amazing meal.

Crostini with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper-Eggplant Confit 
Fresh Figs & Grapes
Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts & Dried Fruits
Gingered Beets
Butternut Squash Puree
Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust & Whipped Cream

I’d been eyeing this recipe for the pepper-eggplant confit even since buying the book it resides in.  This totally awesome cookbook, a collection of all-time best recipes from Gourmet Magazine, is one of my current favorites.  I found it this summer in a dusty used book shop in Madison, Wisconsin, and instantly fell in love.  Along with this vegetable confit and the butterscotch chiffon pie too, I’ve tried at least a dozen other recipes from within its pages.  Each one has been a total, absolute hit.  I got it for a complete steal, but even if I didn’t, this wonderful cookbook would have been one of my best buys of the year. 

Hors D'oeuvres

Eggplant, Red Pepper & Tomatoes

Anyways, back to this confit, this abundant blend of tenderly roasted vegetables – sweet red peppers, full and mellow garlic, velvety eggplant and deeply flavored roasted tomatoes – slightly spicy with a touch of red pepper flakes, and richly infused with lush, fruity extra-virgin olive oil.  It’s at once humble and extravagant, simple yet undoubtedly splendid.  And it’s utterly delicious.  Served atop a crispy, oblong round of French bread crostini with a dollop of creamy whipped goat cheese, and it was even that much better! 

Pan-Roasted Lamb Chop with Ginger Beets, Butternut Squash Puree & Couscous with Pinenuts & Dried Fruits

This night was supposed to be one of our last grilling nights of the year.  But at the last minute, we realized our store of charcoal had dwindled to just a few measly bricks.  And so, rather than grilling these lamb chops, I ended up pan-roasting them.  No regrets though.  No regrets at all.  A hot cast iron pan, a swig of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper – that’s all that was really needed for these gorgeous chops.  Juicy medium-rare and full of flavor, this lamb was so great, we never missed the grill.  

Lamb Chops

This couscous side dish hit the mark too.   A fluffy bowlful of tender, pale yellow particles interwoven with bright yellow dices of sweet bell pepper, golden brown dots of toasted pine nuts, chewy slices of bright amber apricot, shiny golden raisins and inky black specks of dried currents, all lightly cloaked in a bright vinaigrette of lemon and garlic with a touch of mustard and a smoky hint of cumin.  Bright yet warm, with hits of sweetness and full of savory goodness, each flavorful bite of this lovely couscous dish was fully delicious and entirely satisfying.  


Couscous & Cilantro

A perfect partner to the couscous were these gingered beets.  Tender slices of freshly cooked, redder than red beets, tossed in a garlicky, gingery vinaigrette.  Tart lime juice tames the sugary beets, while a little heat comes from a sprinkling of diced jalapeños, and handfuls of fresh mint and cilantro add a wonderful brightness.  The deep red slices of this earthy, sweet root vegetable soak up this varied mix of seasonings, so that each bite contains an exciting burst of bright, huge flavor.  Beets have never been less boring!


The deep orange, ultra-velvety puree of butternut squash was concocted from nothing more than a few simple ingredients – only a small pat of butter, a touch of dark brown sugar, a dash of salt and pepper, and the slow-roasted gourd itself.  With a recipe like this, so simple and pure, it’s all about the star ingredient.  In this case, a truly gorgeous butternut squash, large and smooth, the color or pale cream, with a straight, thick neck, swollen seedy base and firm, dense flesh of  vivid orange.  I was lucky enough to be home in Toledo when my Dad received a assortment of winter squashes from one of his business clients. Rupp Seeds is a Toledo-area family company that specializes in developing unique varieties of fruits and vegetables for chefs’ kitchens.  Every once in a while, my parents get surprise deliveries of freshly harvested produce straight from their farms, all of it of the most amazing flavor and texture imaginable.  Like any Rupp vegetable I’ve ever sampled, this squash is sensational – sweet and buttery, immensely deep in flavor, utterly delicious.  For a recipe that demands the best of ingredients, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. 

Winter Squashes

Butternut Squash

And now we move from butternut to butterscotch.  Butterscotch chiffon pie that is.  A butterscotch chiffon pie with a deep brown gingersnap crust.  A crust that’s a little bit sweet and a littler bit spicy with the heat of ginger, and its texture  just the perfect blend of chewy and crispy.  Within this tender crumb crust is folded a silky whipped filling of  glowing golden butterscotch, so hugely buttery and intensely rich, it’s the epitome of edible decadence.  On top, a cool dollop of vanilla-spiked whipped cream.  A perfect finish for a perfect finish. 

Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust

Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Confit
Makes about 3 cups
Eggplant-Red Pepper Comfit with Goat Cheese & Crostini
2 large red bell peppers
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
First, roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 500°F.  Place the peppers on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, turning every 5-7 minutes, until the skin is loose and blistery.  Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a container. Cover with a lid or with plastic wrap. Allow them to set for about 15 minutes.  Remove the peppers from the container.  Slice each pepper in half, length-wise, and then into quarters, lengthwise again.  Remove the stems, seeds, and any tough, pithy membranes inside.  Using a knife, scrape off the charred skin from the outside of the peppers.  Slice the peppers into 1/2-inch pieces.
Set the oven to 400°F.
In a large roasting pan, toss together the sliced peppers with the sliced eggplant, garlic cloves, chopped tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper flakes.  Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Roast, stirring ever 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour.  Cool to room temperature before serving.  Serve alongside creamy goat cheese and toasted French Bread crostini.
The confit can be made up to 1 week ahead a kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.  Bring to room temperature and give it a good stir before serving. 


Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
Serves 6
Pan-Roasted Lamb Chops
12 lamb chops
2 Tbl vegetable or canola oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Allow the lamb chops to sit at room temperature for about a half hour before you cook them – it’s always best not to work with super cold meat.

Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. After 10 minutes, thoroughly dry the lamb chops by patting with paper towels, then season them liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. (Wait until the last minute to season, because in order to get a good sear, you’ll want the meat as dry as possible, and salt will cause juices to come to the surface of the steaks.)

Add oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the chops to the pan, cover with a splatter screen. You’ll definitely want to use a splatter screen! And while you’re at it, turn on the fan over the stove, and maybe even open all your windows :).

Cook the chops for about 3-4 minutes, then flip them over and cook for about about 2-3 more minutes for rare (120°F ), 4-6 minutes for medium  (130°F ), and 8-10 minutes for well-done (150°F).  Before serving, allow the lamb chops to rest on a platter, covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. 

Couscous with Toasted Pine Nuts & Dried Fruits
Serves 6
Couscous with Toasted Pinenuts & Dried Fruits
1 small garlic clove, peeled & finely minced
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, peeled and finely diced
large pinch cumin
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups water
1 Tbl butter
1 cup couscous
1/4 cup dried apricots (about 8), finely diced
2 Tbl dried currants
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cored and finely diced
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste
First, make a vinaigrette:  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, diced shallot, cumin and mustard.  Slowly add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Next, cook the couscous:  Combine the water and a large pinch of salt in a small saucepot and bring to a boil.  In a medium-sized saucepot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the couscous and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat, then pour in the boiling water.  Stir to evenly distribute the couscous, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes to steam.  Remove the lid and fluff the couscous with a fork. 
Finally, mix it all together:  In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked couscous with the diced apricots, currants, raisins, toasted pine nuts and diced pepper.  Toss gently to combine.  Give the vinaigrette a final whisk, then drizzle over the couscous.  Toss again to evenly combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
Gingered Beets
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
Serves  6
Ginger Beets
about 12-16 small beets
1 small shallot, peeled and finely diced
1/2 small jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbl lime juice
6 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & finely ground black pepper, to taste

To prepare the beets: Slice and the stems and roots from of the beets and discard.  Add the beets to a large saucepot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the beets are tender, about 30-45 minutes.  The beets are done when you can easily slide a paring knife through the center, without hardly having to push at all.  Drain the beets from the water, and allow to cool at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes.  Peel the beets, discarding the skin. You should be able to easily peel the skins off the beets with your fingers.  If not, use a paring knife.  Slice each beet into 6-8 wedges.  Reserve.

To make the vinaigrette: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the shallot, jalapeño, garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro and lime juice.  Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Slowly add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Reserve.
To finish:  In a mixing bowl, toss to combine the sliced beets with the vinaigrette.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  This dish can be kept refrigerated in an air-tight container
for about 12 hours, before the herbs begin to discolor. 
Butternut Squash Puree
Serves  4
Butternut Squash Puree
1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
about 1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl butter (1/4 stick), melted
2 tsp dark brown sugar
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, drizzle the insides with olive oil and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Place cut side-down on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Cover tightly with foil, and roast until completely tender, about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your squash. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the tender flesh and discard the skins.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Place the butternut flesh in the bowl of an electric food processor, and process until very smooth.  Add the melted butter and brown sugar and pulse to combine. Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper, then pulse again to combine.  Serve hot. 
The butternut puree can be made up to 2 day ahead, then re-warmed over medium-low heat in a covered sauce pot.  Add about 2 tablespoons water to the puree, and stir occasionally as it re-heats. 
Butterscotch Chiffon Pie with Gingersnap Crust & Whipped Cream
Serves  8-10
 Butterschotch Pie with Gingersnap Crust
For the gingersnap crust:
10 oz gingersnap cookies, processed into fine crumbs
3 Tbl dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbl butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle position. 
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir to combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and salt.  Add the melted butter and stir to combine.  Evenly press the crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate, forming a neat border around the edge.  Bake until the crust is set and golden, about 15 minutes.  Set aside on a wire rack to completely cool. 
Gingersnap Crumbs, Dark Brown Sugar & Salt
For the butterscotch filling:
3 Tbl light corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbl granulated sugar, divided
2 Tbl plus 2 Tbl water, divided
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 pinches salt, divided
1/3 cup plus 1 cup heavy cream, divided, chilled
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp unflavored gelatin (from 1 envelope)
3 large egg whites
Combine the corn syrup, 3/4 cup sugar and 2 Tbl water in a medium-sized (about 2 quart)
saucepot.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Boil the mixture, swirling the pan occasionally but not stirring, until it turn deep golden caramel, about 7-9 minutes. 
Remove the saucepot from the heat.  Add the butter, vinegar and a pinch of salt, and swirl the pan until the butter is melted.  The sauce will bubble violently.  Add 1/3 cup cream and the vanilla.  The sauce will again bubble violently.  Stir for 1 minute, until the bubbling subsides.  Cool the sauce until it is just warm.
While the sauce cools, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the remaining 2 Tbl water in a small sauce pan.  Let it set for 1 minute to soften, then heat it over low heat to dissolve the gelatin.  Stir the gelatin mixture into the butterscotch sauce, then cool to room temp.
Using an electric stand mixture fitted with a whisk, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on high speed until they hold soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the whites and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add the remaining 1 Tbl sugar and continue to whip until the whites just hold stiff peaks (The point formed in the whites will stand straight up and not fall over).  Fold in the butterscotch sauce, gently but thoroughly.  Transfer this mixture to large mixing bowl, then clean the stand mixer’s bowl and whisk.
Beat the remaining 1 cup cream until it just holds stiff peaks.  Fold the cream into the butterscotch mixture, again gently but thoroughly. 
Gently pour the butterscotch mixture into the cooled gingersnap crust.  Chill, uncovered, until thoroughly set, about 2 hours. 
Slice the pie into 8-10 wedges.  Serve the slices cold with a dollop of whipped cream. 
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).


Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Dinner with Dad

Apple & Crisp Topping

We had another houseguest again this week – my dad, who was here for a business conference.  All too excited to have the chance to cook for him, I made one of his favorites - beef short ribs.  And I whipped up some other great stuff too.  Check it out…

Fall Salad of Pears, Toasted Hazelnuts & Goat Cheese
Merlot-Braised Beef Short Ribs
   Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Carrots & Parsnips
Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream

This delicious salad was just bursting with all sorts of goodness – sweet slivers of sliced shallots, toasted hazelnuts, golden raisins (I know, I’ve been using these like crazy lately, just can’t quite resist ‘em), billowy cloud-like clumps of goat cheese, thin slices of crisp pears. 

Fall Salad

Whenever I think up new salads, I follow one rule of thumb – pick a fruit, pick a nut and pick a cheese.  Toss these together with some fresh greens and a quick vinaigrette, and you’ve got yourself once heck of a salad.  In mathematical terms, S = F + N + C + G + V.   S is for salad of course, and then sub in any kind of fruit for F, any kind of nut for N, and well you get the idea,  any kind of cheese, greens and vinaigrette too.  Have fun mixing and matching the flavors. There are infinite tasty combinations.  And it works every time, certainly did this night. Of 
course, I improvised a little bit too, adding a second fruit and the shallots.  But that’s the fun of it.  It’s no set-in-stone rule, just a springboard for a great, tasty salad.  Hope you try it out!

Beef Short Ribs, Salt, Pepper

Wow oh wow, short ribs.  This has got to be the most incredible cut of meat ever.  Way different from the long slabs of grilled BBQ pork ribs, these hulking, meaty ribs of beef are so enormous, just one is enough for a huge and hearty meal.  A little short rib 101:  like any other cut of meat with a lot of connective tissue, short ribs are best cooked by braising, that is, cooked for a long time over low heat, and in a liquid.  Kind of like a stew, except we’re hardly talking about little cubes of meat.  We talking about these beefy giants of deliciousness.  Anyways, braising these guys for a loooong time at the barest of simmers breaks down all that connective tissue, melting it into a smooth gelatin, and turning the meat incredibly tender. 

Braised Short Rib with Rosemary Mashed Potatoes & Roasted Carrots

There are countless possible spins on braised short ribs, and I’m sure I’ll sneak in at least one or two other twists before the end of the year, but tonight I stuck with a pretty traditional recipe.  Deeply browned onions and carrots and garlic, caramelized tomato paste, a fresh sprig of rosemary, a single bay leaf, a couple cups of beef stock and a bottle of red wine.  It’s as classic as it gets.  And it hardly gets any better than that.  The rich, dark sauce was intensely flavorful, so huge in taste and full of complexity, yet so purely true to the essence of the beef.  Taking nothing away from the meat itself, this incredible sauce simply enhanced it. 

Russet Potatoes

I stayed simple with the sides too.  Whipped russet potatoes, so velvety smooth and silkily creamy, with just the barest hint of rosemary.  Infused into the cream, the rosemary flavor was anything but obvious.  A bit mysterious even, hiding just at the edge of perceptible taste.  It had Ben and Dad asking “what is that extra something?”  And that’s just the effect I was after!

Carrots & Parsnips

The idea for these roasted carrots and parsnips came straight out of the Cook’s Illustrated magazine that arrive in our mailbox that morning.  Tossed with melted butter, then roasted in the oven, these beautiful baby root vegetable turned so tender and sweet, they seems like butter themselves.  I know I’m going to be making this gorgeous side all fall and winter long.  It’s just too easy.  And way too delicious.

Apples with Cinnamon & Sugar

And for dessert, apple crisp.   To me there is nothing quite as delicious as warm apple crisp with a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Nothing at all.  I do think it’s my all-time favorite dessert.  And this is my all-time favorite apple crisp recipe.  The apple filling is tart but sweet, and the crisp topping is rich and buttery, crisp and crunchy on top, but chewy and caramely at the edges.  Oh, it’s absolutely divine, every single bite.  And I’m not the only one who thought so.  As I handed out pretty generously-sized servings of ice cream-topped crisp, Dad said I gave him too big a portion.  But he dug in anyways, and then he helped himself to not one but two more bowlfuls!  I think that says it all.  And I think you should try a bowlful or two (or three) yourself, and right away!  Don’t forget the vanilla ice cream!

Buttery, Crispy Goodness

Fall Salad of Pears, Toasted Hazelnuts & Goat Cheese
Serves  4
Fall Salad of Pears, Hazelnuts, Shallots, Golden Raisins & Goat Cheese
For the vinaigrette:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 clove garlic, finely minced
1 large pinch ground cinnamon
1 tsp dark brown sugar
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl vegetable oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the rest of the salad:
mixed greens (such as baby spinach, butter lettuce or radicchio), torn into
    bite-sized pieces, enough for four people
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
about 1/3 cup golden raisins
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
about 1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced
Make the vinaigrette: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, brown sugar, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together the ingredients, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream, whisking as you pour.  The dressing can be made ahead and stored about five days, refrigerated in an airtight container.
Toast the hazelnuts: Spread the raw hazelnuts on a parchment-lined sheet tray and roast in a 350°F oven until toasted and aromatic, about fifteen minutes or so, rotating the pan about half-way through.  Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.  Removing the skins can be a real hassle, so just try your best – I like a bit of skin left on anyways.  Here’s a handy trick through.  Take a handful of cool, toasted hazelnuts and, holding them over the colander bowl of a salad spinner, rub them between your hands to remove as much of the skin as possible.  Place in the colander, then repeat with the rest of the nuts, Give the salad spinner a few spins and the papery skins will separate out from the nuts.  Discard the skins.

Assemble the salad: Combine the greens, and most of the sliced shallots, raisins, goat cheese, hazelnuts and sliced pears in a large bowl. (I say most because you’ll want to keep a little bit left over to top the salads. It’s always nice to have some of the pretty stuff right on top.) Drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on top, enough to evenly but thinly coat the greens. (You definitely won’t not need to use it all – Save the rest for another salad.)  Season with a good pinch of salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Toss to coat.  Serve immediately.

Merlot-Braised Beef Short Ribs
Serves 4
  Braised Short Ribs
1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
4 large beef short ribs (about 2 pounds total)
2 Tbl plus 1 Tbl butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 bottle Merlot
2 cups beef broth
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Heat a large, wide-bottomed pot over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil, reduce the heat to medium-high, and heat for 1 minute longer.  Meanwhile, pat the short ribs dry with paper towels.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Add the short ribs to the pot in a single layer and sauté, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the ribs to a plate and reserve.  Wipe out the inside of the pot with paper towels, then return to medium-high heat. 
Melt 2 Tbl butter in the pot, then add the chopped onions.  Season with a good sprinkling of salt and pepper, then sauté over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the chopped carrot and continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until well browned also, about 6 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, 1 minute longer.  Add the tomato paste sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the rosemary sprig, bay leaf and wine.  Bring to a boil, and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Add the beef broth, and return the short ribs and any of their accumulated juices to the pot, arranging them in a single layer.  Bring to a simmer, then cover.  Braise at the barest of simmers until the ribs are very tender and the meat has pulled away from the bone, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer the ribs with tongs to a clean plate. Strain the braising liquid through a fine mesh sieve, and discard the solids.  Spoon as much fat as possible from the top of the liquid.  Discard the fat.  Transfer the braising liquid to a smaller pot and place, uncovered, over medium-high heat.  Keep at a strong simmer until the sauce is reduced to about 2 cups and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes (but that is just a rough estimate – this time can vary greatly).  Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir until melted.  Taste the sauce and season as needed with salt and pepper. 
When ready to serve, transfer the short ribs to the pot, and spoon the sauce over the ribs.  Cover and re-heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until hot.  Serve hot.
The short ribs and sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated in an air-tight container.  Reheat over low heat in a covered pot before serving. 
Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Serves  4
Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp rosemary, very finely chopped
3/4 stick (6Tbl) butter, cut into small pieces
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Rinse the potatoes in cool water.  Peel the potatoes, then cut into medium-sized chunks.  Add to a pot of boiling salted water and cook until tender. 
Meanwhile, combine the cream and rosemary in a small pot.  Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.  Set aside, allowing the rosemary to steep in the cream. 
When the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander, then press the cooked potatoes through a potato ricer set over a large mixing bowl.  Fold the butter into the riced potatoes.  Strain the cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve, and discard the rosemary.  Add the cream to the riced potatoes.  Season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.  Mix gently to combine.  Serve hot.
Roasted Carrots & Parsnips
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Magazine, November & December 2010 Issue
Serves  4
Roasted Carrots
1 # carrots, preferably baby carrots
1/2 # parsnips, preferably baby parsnips
2 Tbl butter, melted
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle position.
Peel the carrots and parsnips.  If using larger vegetables, slice them in half cross-wise, then slice length-wise as needed to create evenly-sized pieces. 
In a large mixing bowl, combine the carrots and parsnips with the melted butter. Season generously with salt and pepper, then toss to combine.  Transfer the carrots to a foil-lined baking pan, spreading them in an even single layer.  Cover the pan tightly with foil.
Roast for 15 minutes, then remove the foil.  Stir the carrots & parsnips in the pan, then return to the oven.  Roast uncovered for 10 minutes longer, then stir the carrots and parsnips again.  Roast again for 10 minutes longer, or for as long as needed until the vegetables are well browned and tender, stirring every 10 minutes.  Serve hot.  
Apple Crisp
Serves  8
 Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream
For the topping:
1 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats *
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed to just combine the ingredients.  Add the butter and mix on medium speed until the mixture begins to resemble coarse wet crumbs.  (The mixture should hold together loosely if you squeeze it in your hand, but should still easily crumble apart.  If you mix it for too long, the ingredients will become too thoroughly incorporated, and the mixture will turn dense like cookie dough, so don’t get carried away.)  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.  This topping can be stored for 2 days.

For the filling:
4 large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
4 large Fuji Apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
large pinch cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Butter a 9x13 inch glass baking dish.

In a large mixing bowl, stir to combine the sliced apples with the lemon juice.  Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir to evenly coat.  Transfer the fruit to the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle the topping over the filling.  There’s a trick to doing this:  Grab a handful of the topping and gently squeeze to make it somewhat stick together, then crumble this mass into coarse pieces, spreading the crumbs evenly over the filling.  Bake until the fruit is tender and the crisp topping is golden brown and crisp, about 45 minutes to an hour.  Cool about 20 minutes, then serve topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

* By ‘old fashioned oats’ I mean oats that aren’t instant oats.  I also don’t mean stone-cut oats.  Definitely not those.  Old fashion oats will look a lot like the flat, flaky instant oats, but are a little more substantial.  I like the brand Bob’s Red Mill, which is pretty easy to find in most good grocery stores.  But I don’t think the regular old Quaker Oats brand could be too bad either.