Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hi friends--You're Missing Out!

Update your feeds, change your bookmarks!
Come join us at the newer, awesomer Pithy and Cleaver! We've got Thai crab salad! And Fire and Spice nut mix! Sunchoke soup and double-vanilla french toast (with homemade vanilla-infused bourbon) and LOTS of fun stuff up ahead.

Our new address is:

Please come see us!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hello, amigos!

Big news here at Pithy and Cleaver--we're moving!

That's right! We've packed our bags and headed on over to

We hope you'll update your blogrolls and join us at our new home!

Maggie and Shiv

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spiking Dessert: Eggless Tiramisu with Marsala and Kahlua

Hey readers! You can check out this post on the fancy new Pithy and Cleaver! Just head over here!

Everyone is writing about Twitter these days, perhaps because it's really happening, or perhaps because everyone wants to figure out what the heck it's good for. Quick answer: it's great for wasting time. But I've also found that Twitter is a pretty interesting way to connect with people I may not have gotten to chat with otherwise, as well as a chance see a behind-the-scenes look at bloggers I admire. And it's a useful forum for asking for advice on recipes and restaurants.

I was daydreaming about dessert when I asked my twitter-people (tweeps? Are we really calling them that?) whether they had any tips on tiramisu ingredients or technique. The kind person who contributes to Twitter for Everyday Food magazine responded, volunteering an easy recipe for me to try. How cool! But to me, their recipe just isn't the real thing. These days, mascarpone is easy enough to find (especially in New York) so there was no way I was substituting a bar of reduced-fat-cream cheese. I wanted to grate some nice dark chocolate into it, too, not just use cocoa powder. Instant espresso isn't really my game (it just tastes off to me, even in baked goods) and the recipe didn't call for any alcohol!

We here at Pithy and Cleaver don't mind baking with booze. Shiv did invent a Mint Julep Pie, after all. I was further encouraged when I stopped at the farmer's market for a bottle of fresh cream. The woman from Milk Thistle Farm who sold me a bottle of lovely heavy cream offered her advice: for that true sophisticated tiramisu taste, I should go to a nice liquor store and buy a decent bottle of marsala. It just wouldn't be the same without it. "One last thing," she warned. "Don't soak the ladyfingers too long. And don't overbeat the cream, it's so full of milk fat, it will turn into butter."

Trying not to think of the giant tub of near-butter I was about to serve my unsuspecting guests, I headed for the liquor store with a plan. For this grown-up tiramisu, there would be not one, but two kinds of booze. Good freshly whipped cream, good chocolate, real coffee (spiked with Kahlua!) and real mascarpone, with a touch of marsala. Decadent, for sure.

And really delicious. Like, eye-rolling, expletive-dropping delicious.

This is the perfect dessert for company, since it requires no oven and must be assembled a few hours ahead. It's dramatic looking—your guests will be so impressed, they cannot imagine what a breeze it was to put together. It's rich, but not cloying. Traditionally, tiramisu has raw egg yolks in it, but this eggless version is worry-free. And don't be scared of all the alcohol, the taste is just sophisticated, not too potent.

Eggless Tiramisu with Marsala and Kahlua
serves 9-12

2 cups very strong decaf coffee or espresso, cooled
1/3 cup plus 1 T sugar, divided
3 T Kahlua
2 cups mascarpone
3 T Marsala wine (unsalted-buy at a liquor store, not "cooking wine")
36 savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers)
1 1/2 cups very fresh heavy whipping cream
small bar good-quality dark chocolate for grating (I used four Valrhona 70% cocoa feves)

Prepare layering ingredients: chill a large bowl and the beaters of an electric mixer (a hand mixer is fine.) Prepare coffee and let cool in a wide-low dish (a loaf pan or baking dish works well.) Add 1 T sugar and the Kahlua, set aside.
Place mascarpone in a large bowl. Fold in reminiang 1/3 cup sugar and marsala. Using chilled bowl and beaters, whip cream until soft peaks form. Do not overwhip! Gently fold half of the cream into the mascarpone mixture, then add in the rest, folding carefully until just mixed.

To assemble tiramisu, have 8 1/2" trifle bowl (or other straight-sided serving bowl) next to coffee mixture. Dip savoiardi one at a time into coffee mixture briefly-count "One" as you dip one side, then turn and count "One" before removing. Place in bottom of bowl until a layer is formed (You may have to break a few ladyfingers before dipping to evenly fill bottom layer. When bottom of bowl is covered, carefully add about a quarter of the mascarpone and cream mixture, smoothing the top with a spatula. Grate chocolate on top, evenly covering the cream (you should still be able to see the cream through the chocolate.) Cover with another layer of soaked savoiardi, then another layer of cream, followed by chocolate shavings, repeating until you have four layers and all your cream has been used up. Wrap well with saran wrap and refridgerate at least two hours before serving. You can wait overnight, but the whipped cream condenses a little.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Old Fashioned Way: Nicole Rees's Simple Cream Scones

Hi readers, we've moved!
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.

Living in a 450 square-foot apartment is tricky if you love to cook and bake. Wall shelves help, as does a freestanding counter island. Baking pans are stacked in unnatural positions and wedged in tiny cabinets, and we have a bread board hanging on a nail on the wall. Luckily, we did manage to find an apartment with a dishwasher—though it's insalled directly under the sink, rendering it impossible to rinse dishes and put them into the dishwasher with any sort of grace. Needless to say, we don't have lots of big kitchen appliances.

Every time I read a cooking magazine or pick up a new cookbook, I am reminded of my longing for a food processor and (sigh) a Kitchenaid mixer. So many recipes call for these tools without explaining any alternatives. That's why I was so excited to receive a copy of Baking Unplugged from the kind folks at Wiley publishing.

In Baking Unplugged, Nicole Rees provides recipes for old-fashioned treats that don't call for any fancy equipment. With a whisk and a spoon (and a few other low-tech tools you probably already own), she makes breakfast treats and old-fashioned desserts to satisfy a sweet tooth. The yeasted cinnamon rolls sound amazing, as do the lemon squares with grated hazelnuts in the dough. (That one is very high on my to-make list.) Her directions are simple and clear, though I do wish there were pictures of the finished dishes. A long introduction explains baking down to the simplest techniques and ingredients: she wants to impart all the knowledge of old-fashioned baking the way your great-grandmother might have done.

Many of Rees's techniques and tricks for baking by hand make perfect sense, and I wish more cookbook and magazine writers would follow her lead and at least mention how a dish might be made without a mixer. Besides, it is kind of satisfying to put a dough together the old fashioned way. However, I'm unlikely to follow her all the way down this road. Whipping cream with a cold whisk may be possible, but I'm not that eager to try when a small electric hand mixer can do the job in a fraction of the time. (And without the arm cramp.)

I had never made scones before attempting the recipe in Baking Unplugged, and I was amazed at how quickly they came together. You could easily bake these in the morning before friends came over for tea or brunch. (Though they can also be frozen and rewarmed with decent results.) Straight out of the oven, they are trancendental. They're simple, tender, and flaky, with none of the off, stale flavors you find in coffeeshop scones (plus, a fraction of the cost!)

I used local cream from the farmer's market for this recipe, which I highly recommend. Because the scones have more cream than butter, and no other flavorings to distract you, the taste is one of farm-fresh dairy. They're not greasy at all. They were a touch too sugary for my liking—perhaps this is what the author means by "retro" baking. I'll scale down the sugar a tiny bit when I make them again (and watch the sugar in other recipes in the book.) I just may not have quite the same intense sweet tooth as Nicole Rees. But I'm glad her sweet tooth guided her toward writing this book.

Cream Scones
From Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees; Wiley 2009

Makes 8 scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I would consider a little bit less)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream plus 2 T for brushing
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
sugar for sprinkling (crunchy turbinado sugar would be good)

Preheat the oven to 375°. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir the vanilla extract into the heavy cream. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until a few pea-sized lumps remain. With a fork, gradually stir in enough of the 3/4 cup heavy cream until the mixture just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8" round about 1 1/2" high. Using a chef's knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1" apart. Brush the tops with the remaining heavy cream and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake in the top third of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm with jam.

PS: I've added the book to our Amazon sidebar over there --------> so you can pick yourself up a copy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My One and Only: Salmon with Soy-Honey and Wasabi Sauces

Dear readers: please come see us at the Newer, Awesomer Pithy and Cleaver. Click here to see this salmon on the new site!

There are plenty of foods I'll experiment with. I'll tinker with tomato sauce, I'll riff on risotto. But for me, no salmon recipe can unseat this one as my favorite. (I'll admit, I haven't yet tried Shiv's Seduction Salmon with Honey Mustard.)

Before we moved to Oregon and became flannel-wearing Northwesterners, I don't remember eating much salmon. As soon as we got settled, though, my mother was grilling it up (in the rain) with the best of them.

This recipe, for me, is the taste of home. It reminds me of my parents' dinner parties, during which our little dachshund would attempt to steal a napkin from some unsuspecting guest's lap and shred it to bits. (And then eat it, which was a pretty bad idea.) The salmon was served with a big salad and crusty loaves of bread, sometimes a dish of couscous with raisins alongside. Giant, thick filets of fish were consumed—even those who didn't plan to take seconds always did. It's hard to keep from licking up any remaining sweet soy-honey sauce from the plate. Whenever Matt and I travel west to see my folks, this is the dinner we request.

My mom has actually moved on to a new recipe, and that's fine, but this is the one for me. If you have a grill, you can cook the fish quickly outside, but if you only have a broiler, that works just as well. It isn't too smelly, I promise. Just be sure to leave it quite rare, like true Northwesterners do.

Salmon with Soy-Honey and Wasabi Sauces
Gourmet, May 2001
Serves 4.
If you're only serving 2, I would still make all the sauce, since it's delicious.

For salmon
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 6 to 8 oz piece thick salmon fillet per person

For sauces
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I use reduced-sodium)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water

Lime wedges for serving

Briefly marinate salmon:
Stir together mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger in a shallow dish. Add fish, skin sides up, and marinate, covered, at room temperature 10 minutes. Preheat broiler.

Make sauces: Boil soy sauce, honey, and lime juice in a small saucepan, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 4 minutes. For wasabi sauce, stir together wasabi powder and water in a small bowl.

Broil fish, skin sides down, on oiled rack of a broiler pan 5 to 7 inches from heat until fish is still pink inside, 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook! Serve salmon drizzled with sauces, with lime wedges for squeezing.

Soy-honey and wasabi sauces can be made 2 hours ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature. Salmon is good with lightly steamed/sauteed vegetables (pea shoots, asparagus, shitake mushrooms) tossed with a tablespoon of hoisin.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A guaranteed crowd-pleaser: Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms, and artichokes


Given that I am a total misanthrope, it comes as a surprise to some how much I love entertaining. Ever since I figured out how to boil water without setting the house on fire (somewhere in my early twenties), I've taken ridiculous pleasure in having my nearest and dearest over for a home-cooked meal. The current flaw in this pleasure: in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, it's hard to manufacture a meal for more than, say, four people at a time. As such, I am sure you can imagine my initial panic when Bench and I decided to have a dinner party for eight; fortunately for everyone, I had this recipe tucked in my back pocket.

A riff on traditional white-slash-green lasagna, this particular recipe gets a little extra heft from sauteed mushrooms and a whole lot of personality from minced artichoke bottoms (I tried to make this happen with artichoke hearts, Texturally, they just didn't do what I wanted them to; they were too flighty and fibrous where I wanted solid and defined) and about thirty pounds of garlic. Though you can do everything The Hard Way (make your own pesto, wash and chop adult spinach, grate your own parmesan--none of which, seriously, I would have done if I'd known the party was going to be switched at the last minute from Saturday to Friday; totally unnecessary when you're pressed for time), you really don't have to: premade pesto is an excellent way to shave off some prep time, and bagged, prewashed baby spinach makes it almost TOO easy. You can probably even use those lasagna noodles that don't require pre-boiling (which I, being a cowardly sort, have never tried) and you can definitely use pre-grated cheese.


I love serving this at parties for several reasons: it's delicious (obviously), it's impressive, it's easy to assemble, vegetarians will eat it, it multiplies well, and you can do it at a leisurely pace in advance or you can make it in a hurry on a Friday night. Basically, it's my go-to, no fail, always appropriate, guaranteed-to-elicit-queries-for-the-recipe party superstar. My repertoire holds no equal. I hope it's the same for you.


Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms and artichokes

a little oil for the pan
about 16 lasagna noodles
6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, finely minced
15-oz (usually 1 can) artichoke bottoms, minced
2 lbs. (4 cups) ricotta cheese
1 cup pesto
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or minced walnuts)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 head garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated

  1. Preheat your oven to 350; slice the top off the head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil and wrap it loosely in foil. Bake until soft and fragrant (about one hour) (Note: if you are preparing the lasagna in advance, this would be a good time to turn off your oven. If you are NOT preparing this in advance, roast the garlic while you're prepping the rest of the filling and keep the oven hot). Once it's cool enough to touch, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mash it into a paste. Set aside.
  2. Set a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the lasagna noodles for 4-5 minutes (until tender but still al dente). Drain them and lay them out flat on foil or parchment while you get the filling ready.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large pan; over medium-low heat, saute the mushrooms with a bit of salt until they have released all their liquid, and then re-absorbed it (about 3-4 minutes). Add the artichoke bottoms and saute for 2-3 minutes more; add the minced garlic and saute for two more minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Mix together: ricotta, artichoke-mushroom mixture, pine nuts, roasted garlic paste, pesto, pine nuts and spinach. Set aside.
  5. Lightly oil a 9x13 pan. Line the bottom with one layer of noodles, then spread 1/3 of the filling over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Add another layer of noodles, filling and cheese. And once more.
  6. Bake for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees; if the top starts to scorch, cover it lightly with foil.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Flirting with disaster: Turkey meatballs for the masses!


It's probably become kind of apparent by now that my general approach to cooking is...well...kind of lax. I rarely measure, I just kind of throw stuff in a pan. Sometimes this works, sometimes this comes back to bite me in the ass. And sometimes, both will happen at once, as was the case when I last made meatballs.

My starting point for these meatballs came from a recipe recommended to me by a lovely friend of mine (who also passed along her secret, awesome twist), a true virtuoso in the kitchen. After seeing her breezy, effortless way with these little delights, I was entranced, and immediately came home to try them. They were an unqualified success, and so I, of course, misplaced the recipe before the evening was over. Never to be seen again. Which meant I was, more or less, SOL when Bench requested a repeat a few days ago. Fortunately, these setbacks have never really stopped me; and so I trotted home, ground turkey in hand, to recreate the magic on a wing and a prayer.

ready to bake

Reasons why (in this particular instance) this cavalier attitude presented a slight problem:
  1. I messed up my liquid-to-solid ratio and oversoaked the crackers (standing in for the breadcrumbs--this is the secret, and IT IS AWESOME), resulting in a saltine porridge instead of a moist, crumby cracker dough, which meant I needed to compensate by adding vast quantities of additional crackers to dry out the Meat Dough.
  2. I came home with far more ground turkey than was really necessary. However, in light of problem 1, this turned out to be a blessing.
  3. I could not remember how to actually apply the heat to these things in order to cook them. Bake? Fry? What temperature? What? (In the clinch, I turned, as I so often do, to Mark Bittmann, who showed me the way when it comes to baking meatballs, turkey or otherwise).
  4. I failed to add two very important components: Salt and Pepper. Which I realized after I'd rolled out half the meatballs. Re-rolling raw meat=not particularly enjoyable.
However! By the time I actually got them in the oven, I'd actually gotten the hang of this endeavor, and think I might actually be able to make them from memory from here on out. I served them with a lovely spinach fettucine tossed in ricotta and lemon zest--highly recommended!

Light and lovely turkey meatballs

12 oz ground turkey (or pork; I'll never tell!)
1/4 lb saltine crackers (about one tube if you buy one of the big boxes), crushed
1/2c milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
  1. In a medium-sized skillet, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil until just translucent. Turn off the heat and add the sage; mix thoroughly.
  2. Meanwhile, moisten the crushed crackers in the milk; don't let them get too soggy! Squeeze out the excess moisture.
  3. Add the crackers, egg, onions and sage to the ground meat; mix thoroughly. if the mixture is too wet, crush some dry crackers into the mixture until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper.
  4. MEANWHILE! Preheat your oven to 350. While it's cranking up, roll the meat dough into balls approximately 1.5" in diameter; place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. When the oven's ready, bake the meatballs for about ten minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weeknight Entertaining: Port-Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise

Hi readers, we've moved!
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.

Let's say you want to have a special evening. There's a fancy bottle of wine you've been saving, and you've invited a few friends over for a home-cooked meal. You have something to celebrate.

But you don't know exactly what time they're arriving—they could be stuck at work, or their train could take forever to come. If you plan a dish with too many last-minute preparations, you'll be bustling around while your friends relax and catch up. And you clearly don't have time for lots of shopping and complicated prep between the time you leave work and the time they come over. It's a challenge, the weeknight dinner party.

But take a deep breath. There is no reason you can't entertain on a weeknight, even have a truly decadent, enjoyable meal, without any stress. That's what braising is for. Everything is prepared in advance. You can gently reheat these port-braised lamb shanks for 45 minutes or an hour or longer while your guests arrive, while you drink toasts and eat lovely cheese, and the meal will be none the worse for wear. In fact, it will just get better.

It always amazes me how recipes for braised dishes fail to emphasize the value in cooking ahead. Cook for three (or more) hours the evening before your party, and let the pot cool off outside before you stash it in the fridge overnight. The flavors will mingle, and, most importantly, the fat will separate from the cooking liquid. On game day, you skim the now-solidified fat from the surface before reheating. And this dish has plenty. It's quite satisfying to remove it, knowing you're saving your guests from a greasy meal.

So the lamb reheated happily on the stove, and we sipped the wine and ate lovely cheese from Fromaggio in Essex Market. And Matt asked Peter to be his best man in our wedding, and they were both blushing and adorable, and the lamb fell off the bone as I tried to serve it, and it was as tender as can be.

Port-Braised Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2006
Serves 4

2 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large lamb shanks (about 5 pounds)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large white onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled
3 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 small leek
3 cups ruby Port
2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 1/2 cups beef broth
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

The day before the party, prepare and braise the lamb shanks. Measure coriander, fennel, and pepper in a heavy skillet. Toast on medium-high heat until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder or mortar and pestle; grind finely. Rub each shank with spice blend, reserving a tablespoon or so. Sprinkle each shank with salt.

In large pot, heat port to a simmer. Simmer until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Add broth, boil until liquid is reduced to about 4 cups, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, eat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shanks to pot. Cook until brown on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove to bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same pot. Add onion and next 4 ingredients; sauté over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice blend and stir 1 minute. Add hot liquid when reduced, scraping the pan and using the liquid to deglaze.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Return shanks to pot. Add cloves, star anise, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper. Cover pot and place in oven. Braise lamb until tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
When cooked, uncover and cool slightly. Remove shanks from sauce, holding on a plate or bowl, and strain sauce. Return shanks and sauce to pot. Cover and keep refrigerated up to two days.

The day of the party, skim fat from top of the dish. Rewarm, covered, in a 350°F for 45 minutes to one and a half hours (until warm) before serving.

Place 1 lamb shank on each of 4 plates (can be served on top of polenta). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce and over lamb and serve.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The department of mycological affairs: Seared tuna with multi-mushroom ragout


The other weekend, we were lucky enough to wrangle a brunch invite from the Lovely A and her man B (huevos con migos cooked up by real live Texans? HELL YES!), and Bench and I were tasked with bringing along some fruit. So, we popped into one of my favorite stores ever, Union Market, to peruse their produce section. En route to picking out the fruit, my eye was caught by the mushroom bar.


Oh man, oh mercy.

They had mushrooms i'd never even SEEN before! Black trumpets! Hedgehog mushrooms! Mini chanterelles! They also had some of the most beautiful oyster mushrooms I'd ever encountered. Needless to say, I stopped in front of that display like I'd walked into a wall of glass. Bench, recognizing the symptoms, just handed me a bag, and with the acquisition of a gorgeous (if GIGANTOR) piece of yellowfin tuna, the evening meal was planned: Seared tuna with multi-mushroom-miso ragout.

I decided that miso was going to be a central flavor in this meal, and so I marinated the tuna in a slurry of red miso, rice vinegar, and sesame oil; the mushrooms were sauteed slow and low with miso, sake, garlic, and honey (low and slow is pretty much my watchword for mushrooms these days), resulting in a tangy, complex, meaty ragout. The tuna was cooked fast and high in my cast iron skillet, its simple seasoning an excellent match for the robust mushroom sauce.


Basically, this was a nice, quick weeknight meal elevated to gourmet ridiculousness with the application of a few specialty mushrooms; it will taste just as lovely with whatever mushrooms you happen to find at your local. This dish is not elitist! This dish does not judge!

Seared tuna with mushroom sauce

1lb nice tuna steak, cut into four portions

1lb mushrooms, sliced (any combination your heart desires! I used black trumpet, hedgehog, shiitake and oyster, but crimini, portobello, button white, or any other combination will work)
2 tsp red miso, divided
1/3c sake
1/4c seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil, divided
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 cloves garlic, sliced
  1. Make your marinade: combine 1/2 tsp sesame oil, the rice vinegar, and 1 tsp miso in a zip top bag. Mix it thoroughly, add the fish and then refrigerate for up to one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, make your sauce: over medium-low heat, saute the garlic until it's just aromatic. Add the mushrooms; stir until they've released their liquid.
  3. Add the miso and the honey. Continue to saute until the mushrooms have re-absorbed their liquid.
  4. Add the sake and stir until the sauce starts to thicken slightly. Reduce heat to low.
  5. In a well-seasoned skillet, heat the remaining sesame oil with the olive oil over high heat. Remove the fish from the marinade and pat dry.
  6. When the oil just starts to smoke, plop your fish down in it and cook for 3-5 minutes a side (turning once) until it reaches your favorite level of doneness. I like mine still flopping around, so I tend to find myself closer to the three-minute end of the spectrum.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dinner from the Pantry: Orzo with Garlicky White Beans and Chicken Sausage

Hi readers, we've moved!
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.

At Supper restaurant in the East Village, they treat every table to a bowl of white beans soaked in garlicky olive oil. Piled onto bread, these beans may very well be one of the best dishes the restaurant has to offer. (Though you shouldn't miss the Priest Stranglers or the perfect roast chicken.) I learned to reproduce those beans for a quick appetizer by trial and error when I first moved to the city, and "the bean thing" has since become a staple in our household. Having a can of white beans and a head of garlic around means I'll never be without a snack for surprise vistors, or short on food for a party.

But a girl cannot live on bread and beans alone, so I whipped up an extended remix, full-meal version here. Garlic, beans, and olive oil are still the stars of the show, but this hearty dish has a bit more to offer: salty sausage, fresh herbs, and sweet leeks flavor the pasta. A squeeze of lemon and a shaving of parmesan finish it off.

You may have everything in your pantry and freezer to make this right now. You may even be trying the eat-down-the-pantry challenge that everyone's writing about on Egullet and The Washington Post. Here is my offering to those watching their budgets and to those whose tiny apartment freezers and pantries are just too crowded. Just make sure anyone you might want to kiss has a bite of the garlicky stuff too.

Orzo with Garlicky White Beans and Chicken Sausage

serves 2

4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves, washed and torn
1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves
2 or 3 leeks, washed carefully and chopped
3 spicy italian chicken sausages, sliced in rounds (the ones I used were fully cooked)
1/2 cup wine or pasta water
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb orzo
parmesan and lemon wedges for serving

In a large saute pan or 3.5 qt dutch oven, saute garlic, sage, and oregano in olive oil until garlic begins to turn translucent. Add leeks and saute several minutes until softened. Meanwhile, boil water for the orzo. When leeks are softened, push them to the side of the pan. Add sliced sausages to open space and cook, turning occasionally, until brown (if you started with raw sausages, check to make sure sausage looks cooked through.) Salt pasta water generously and cook pasta according to package directions. Deglaze saute pan with wine or pasta water ladled from the cooking pasta. Add beans, cook 10 minutes. When pasta is cooked al dente, add to bean mixture and toss. Salt generously and serve with parmesan and a lemon wedge for squeezing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Improvising Indian: Chickpeas and Greens Simmered in Yogurt

Hi readers, we've moved!
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.

I would love to invite a group of friends to my apartment for an Indian feast. I'd to try the tandoori chicken from a recent Cook's Illustrated (recipe here on The Bitten Word), charred under the broiler with a coating of garam masala, ginger, and chili powder. Perhaps I'd even make an attempt at naan with onion or garlic and a mango salsa. For dessert, an assortment of tropical sorbets, or maybe a coconut tapioca?

But when I saw a recipe for
spinach simmered in yogurt with turmeric and coriander in last month's Food and Wine, I didn't want to wait for a big party. Perhaps it's end-of-winter braised-meat fatigue, or a vitamin deficiency as the cold weather drags on, but a bowl of greens is an appealing supper all on its own to me. Especially after trudging home through the slushy puddles overflowing every gutter in the city.

The very first mesclun leaves are appearing at the Union Square farmer's market, but I needed piles, since greens cook down to nothing. Don't underestimate—you probably need a bunch of greens per person if you're serving this as a main course. And if even if not, since it's delicious. I picked out spinach and nice-looking mustard greens at Whole Foods. To make it a bit more substantial, I added two cans of chickpeas for a tangy spin on chana saag. (I increased and varied the spices too after a taste—chickpeas take quite a bit of spice.)

I would not use frozen spinach for this, even if someone else gives you permission. Since the dish only simmers for a few minutes, fresh greens elevate it above takeout Indian. The mustard greens are pleasantly potent, and the spinach stays sweet and fresh. You could probably make this ahead, as well, cooking the spices and chickpeas and wilting the greens, then just combining it all with the yogurt to warm through when your guests arrive.

Chickpeas and Greens Simmered in Yogurt

Serves 2-3 as a main course
Inspired by Food and Wine, February 2009

2 bunches spinach, rinsed carefully
1 large bunch mustard greens
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

Carefully wash spinach and mustard greens and place in a large pot. The water clinging to the leaves will help steam the greens. Cook, covered, over moderate heat until barely wilted, stirring occasionally. Transfer to colander. Press excess water out of greens and set aside to cool. Coarsely chop.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a dutch oven, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and chile flakes and cook until fragrant. Add coriander, turmeric, garam masala, curry powder, and ginger, and toast one minute, stirring. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup water to deglaze, and cook until evaporated. Add another 1/2 cup water, and cook 20 minutes, stirring frequently. When garbanzos are tender, lower the heat and add chopped greens and yogurt to the pot, stirring, five minutes, until the yogurt begins to separate. Season generously with salt and serve with rice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

You Salty Tart: Fresh Plum Tart with Goat Cheese and Walnut-Thyme Streusel

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Read this post, and new ones, at the newer, awesomer Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.

Salty desserts are all the rage. It seems we're not satisfied anymore with simple sweets, we need them with smokey bacon! and Maldon salt! (And infused with the cereal-milk of our childhood dreams, but I haven't tried that yet.)

This tart isn't a brand-
new invention, though—it's from a 2003 Bon Appetit recipe. Anticipating the trend, I guess.

It's a fun, light-feeling dessert, with a nutty crust and fresh, uncooked goat cheese and ricotta filling. If you wait for plums to be in season, you'll get even tastier results. It's quite impressive-looking, and doesn't even require that you make pie crust!

The thing about salt in desserts, though, is that you have to be careful. One minute, you're fun and edgy, but a few pinches of Maldon later, you're serving pretzels with post-dinner coffee. So I've adjusted the salt a little in the recipe below. The sprinkle of Maldon or fleur de sel on top of the streusel is great, but the ricotta filling really didn't need it.

Plum Tart with Goat Cheese and Walnut-Thyme Streusel
Adapted from
Bon Appetit

For the crust
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup walnuts (about 2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg yolk

For the streusel
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup walnuts (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Filling and Topping
8 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

4 large plums (about 1 pound), halved, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel (I used Maldon sea salt) for garnish

For crust:
Blend first 4 ingredients in processor until nuts are finely ground. If you don't have a food processor, chop nuts finely and add first 4 ingredients to a large bowl, blending with a pastry blender. Add butter; blend until coarse meal forms. Add egg yolk; blend until moist clumps form. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Cover; chill 1 hour.

For streusel:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend flour, walnuts, both sugars, coarse salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom in processor until nuts are finely ground. (or chop nuts and use pastry blender in a large bowl.) Add thyme and blend 5 seconds. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add butter. Using fingertips, rub in until small moist clumps form.

Spread streusel mixture on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes. Stir, then continue baking until golden brown, about 7 minutes longer. Cool streusel completely (mixture will become crisp).

For filling and topping:
Combine both cheeses, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon oil, sugar, nutmeg, and pepper in large bowl; stir to blend well. Refrigerate while baking crust.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Continue to bake crust until golden brown, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 15 minutes longer. Cool crust completely.

Spread cheese filling in crust. Arrange plums in concentric circles atop filling, leaving 3/4-inch plain border. Sprinkle streusel lightly over tart. Refrigerate tart at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Remove pan sides; place tart on platter. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons honey and 2 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with fleur de sel. Cut tart into wedges.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce: Satisfying Vegetarian for a Crowd

When you make dinner for nine people in a tiny apartment (or anywhere), it is not always perfect. The lasagna noodles may overcook and turn out a bit floppy, and you may run out of cheese for the topping. The pictures may be blurry and messy. But it's really just lucky you have enough chairs. And your guests are enjoying meeting each other, and there's plenty of wine.

While I'm not going to instruct you to recreate this exact lasagna, I wanted to share with you the recipe for the sauce I used. Because it's killer. It's earthy and deeply flavored, with the richness and strength of a heavy meat sauce, without any of the meat. Dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, along with an entire bottle of wine turn regular marinara into dinner-party material. It impressed vegetarians and carnivores alike. And this is not just a lasagna ingredient: this would be great on gnocchi or tagliatelle or piled onto shredded spaghetti squash and/or bitter greens.

Set aside a day to make this giant pot of sauce, and save it in portions in your freezer for a quick meal. It can simmer all day, and your patience will be rewarded.

A few notes on ingredients: I used an inexpensive ($5) Shiraz for this. Be sure to taste a sip to make sure the bottle is good before adding it to your sauce. Because wouldn't it be sad if the wine ruined it all! Also, I added one jar of pre-made Barilla marinara to the sauce base. I realize this is cheating, but I find it evens out the edges a little, and provides a neutral base for your fresh flavorings.

Killer Porcini Mushroom Tomato Sauce

1 oz porcini mushrooms
2 cups water
2 yellow onions, chopped
1/2 T fennel seeds
2 T tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 large portobello mushroom, chopped
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bottle dry red wine (I used Shiraz)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 jar (24 oz) prepared marinara sauce (I used Barilla)
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves

Soak porcini mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water for 30 minutes. Rinse porcini and chop, saving liquid. Pour liquid through a strainer lined with a paper towel to remove dirt and save. Meanwhile, saute onions in a large (at least 6 quart) heavy dutch oven over medium low, stirring often, about 20 minutes until translucent and beginning to color. Add fennel seeds and tomato paste, stir and let caramelize for a minute. Add garlic, rosemary, basil, and portobello mushroom, saute 1 minute more. Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh pepper along with red pepper flakes.

Pour 2 cups of wine into the pan to deglaze, stir and scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until wine evaporates. Add both cans of tomatoes and their liquid along with prepared marinara. Add chopped porcini along with half their liquid. Let simmer (it should be just lightly bubbling) until reduced slightly, about 20 minutes, then add another cup of wine and the remaining porcini liquid. Continue cooking and adding wine a cup at a time until entire bottle has been added. This could take an hour.

Let simmer on very low heat at least 2 more hours and up to six, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, stir in fresh oregano leaves. Taste for seasoning.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lady Marmalade: Blood Orange Marmalade


So, you know how I've been going on and on about winter citrus and its restorative effects on the dying winter soul? Well, let me tell you. I have not been returning the favor--I've had a whole pile of Meyer lemons and blood oranges languishing in my refrigerator for weeks, barely hanging on to this mortal coil. It got to the point where my guilt was so significant that I embarked upon the unthinkable: I decided to make marmalade.

This was An Event for two major reasons:
  1. I've never made jam of any sort
  2. Despite being half English, I've never really had much of a taste for the stuff.
However! When one is talking wasted citrus, one must rise to the unexpected challenge! Or attempt to, anyway. I'll admit it: it took me a few tries to get this one right. I didn't have a real recipe to work with, and I'd never worked with pectin; I also failed to properly measure the amount of fruit I was using, so I ended up with marmalade soup at the end of the first cooking. Cooking it twice, while probably not ideal, didn't seem to hurt the concoction too much. If anything, I think it may have intensified the citrus flavor.

Things I learned:
  • Using only the zest of the orange (discarding the pith and most of the rind) cut the bitterness factor significantly while still allowing the extreme...well...citrusness of the fruit to really shine.
  • Marmalade is far more delicious than I'd given it credit for (though, admittedly, my marmalade may not be...well...traditional.)
  • Many marmalade recipes call for a metric shedload of sugar. I believe that if you boil longer, you can get a similar effect without as much. I mean, 7 cups? Really?
  • Canning and jarring and jamming is nowhere near as daunting as I'd once thought. All you need are a big pot, a pair of tongs, a spatula (for getting the filled jars in and out) and a good book to read while you stir the pot.


Blood orange marmalade

8 Whole blood oranges.
3 Meyer lemons, sliced thinly
4c sugar
Pectin (I used one pouch of Certo brand liquid pectin, by Sure-jell)
  1. Remove the outer layer of zest from the orange (if you want the marmalade texture, do this with a vegetable peeler; if you're lazy like me, you can use your microplane), taking care not to get too much of the bitter white layer beneath. Set the zest aside.
  2. Peel the oranges and then slice them thinly and chop them roughly. remove any tough pith or seeds that you encounter, but save as much of the juice as you can!
  3. Put the oranges and lemons in a deep saucepan; add the pectin and let sit for a moment.
  4. Add the zest.
  5. Add the sugar and then bring the contents of the pan up to a boil. Boil, boil, boil away (stirring as much as you can reasonably bear) merrily until it's thick, syrupy, and passes the spoon test.
To preserve your marmalade:
  1. Get a bunch of canning jars.
  2. Wash them in hot, soapy water
  3. Boil them mercilessly for about 15 minutes, then remove them from the pot.
  4. Ladle your marmalade into your clean, sterilized jars. Gently seal the tops and boil them at a rollicking, high temperature (with at least 1 inch of water covering them) for 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the jars in there until the water is lukewarm (I tend to leave the jars in the waterbath overnight). This should activate the vacuum seal on the jar, characterized by the sort of dip in the middle. If you don't have a vacuum seal by the time the water cools, remove the jar and try again with a new lid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pancakes for Dinner: Vegetarian Pa Jeon

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February 24th was International Pancake Day. And I made these tasty Korean pancakes for dinner. But it was totally a coincidence.

When I started looking at recipes for Pa Jeon, I was not even aware of the existence of Pancake Day, which apparently arose from an old tradition of using up eggs and fat before Lent begins. But here I am with a belly full of pancakes. And you should make these for dinner, pancake day or no.

It's a great tight-budget recipe, using a few pantry ingredients and giving you an opportunity to clean out the fridge. Depending on what you have around, these basically are free. Or, like, five dollars, max. Got some extra zucchini? Slice into matchsticks and throw it in. A few shrimp languishing in your freezer? Thaw, chop and add. I did a vegetarian version, but you could stir leftover cooked meat into the batter if you've got some around. Bits of sweet red peppers would be great, too. The only real essentials are a batter (preferably made with half rice flour, which gives it a sweetness and lightness, as well as crispy edges) and a vinegary dipping sauce.

I found the rice flour at a local asian market (M2M, in case you're in New York.) The package just says "Rice Powder" and it looks a little suspicious, but it tasted great and I've lived to tell the tale. It wouldn't shock me if Whole Foods had some, as well, maybe in the gluten-free section? In fact, I bet you could make these entirely gluten-free with minimal adjustment to the recipe, just subbing out the cup of wheat flour for something safely GF. Many soy sauces aren't gluten-free, though, so watch out for that.

While I was making these for the first time, I was struck by the similarity to latkes, an old favorite. Even down to the trick of adding a bit of seltzer to fluff up the batter! (Trick courtesy Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York.) These are a bit more soft and pillowy, though. Perhaps we should try dipping latkes in ginger-vinegar sauce. Now that's fusion.

Vegetarian Korean Pancakes (Pa Jeon)
adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 2

For pa jeon:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rice flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups cold unflavored seltzer water
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus extra for the pan
1 cup garlic chives (scallions are ok), sliced in 2-inch lengths
1/2 cup carrots, peeled cut into thin matchsticks (if you grate them, they disappear into the batter)
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon prepared kimchi, chopped, plus additional for serving

For vinegar dipping sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

To prepare dipping sauce, stir first first four ingredients in a bowl until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and stir, crushing slighly against the sides of the bowl. Let macerate, stir in sesame seeds when you're ready to serve.

In a large bowl, gently mix flours, eggs, seltzer, and oil until smooth. Let rest a few minutes while you prepare the vegetables. Stir in vegetables, including kimchi, tossing to coat. Heat a large seasoned cast iron pan over medium heat and coat with a bit of oil. When pan is hot, drop batter with a ladle to form 4 or five pancakes (smaller pancakes are easier to flip than large.) Spread out batter so it's no more than a half-inch thick. Turn heat down to medium-low. Cook about 4 minutes, flipping when pancake no longer resists, then cook about 4 minutes on the other side. Pancake should be crispy and brown, with no liquid inside. Remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve hot with vinegar dipping sauce, extra kimchi, and hot sauce, if desired.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A shot of spice: Tequila-lime Shrimp with Spicy Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

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I got a phone call the other day from my old college roommate, Hannah. She's been living in Grozny and Sierra Leone since 2004, but she's working in New York for a few months. She was checking out apartments from Brooklyn to the Upper East side, looking for a room to sublet during her time in the city.

"I'm in your neighborhood, I think," she said, and we made plans to meet up after she saw the room. She called back two minutes later. "Um, when I said in your neighborhood, I meant in your building," she said. "Your name is on the mailbox downstairs." Sure enough, the room that she'd found randomly on craigslist was just two floors down from me! So for two months, we will pretend to be roommates again, and catch up after being many, many miles apart since graduation.

This meal, which we made with another college friend/former roommate (the lovely Jackie), was perfect for collaborative cooking. (I can take no credit for the recipe selection—Jackie chose these, and they were winners.)

The three of us took turns stirring while we drank some wine—none of the labor was too taxing. At the last minute, when the risotto has softened adequately, the shrimp cook up quick in a pan (or a grill, if you have it.)

Studded with corn and peppers and spiked with spice, this dish is not your mama's risotto. It has a real kick to it, balanced by the sweetness of red peppers and shrimp. Keep a glass of water (or a beer) handy.

Spicy Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto

Adapted from Cooking Light

Yield: 4 servings

1 3/4 cups water
3 1/2 cups low-salt vegetable or chicken broth or stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup uncooked Arborio or other short-grain rice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 jalapeno, chopped, seeds removed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
2 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
3/4 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers, removed from liquid

Combine water and broth in a medium pot and bring to a low simmer. Keep warm over low heat.

In a large saucepan, heat oil. Add rice, cumin, coriander, garlic, and jalapeno, sauté for one to two minutes until rice is slightly translucent. Stir in 1/2 cup of the broth mixture, cook until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Gradually add remaining broth, half a cup at a time, waiting and stirring until broth is absorbed before adding more. Cook about 20 minutes total—it's possible you may not need all of the liquid. Taste rice, it should be tender. Stir in scallions, cheese, hot sauce, corn (still forzen!) and roasted peppers. Cook and stir 3 minutes, until heated through. Top with Tequila-lime shrimp.

Tequila-Lime Shrimp
adapted from Health

2 tablespoons tequila
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon bottled hot sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails on (about 1 1/4 pounds)
lime wedges for serving

After your risotto (see recipe above) has been cooking awhile, combine tequila, lime juice, olive oil, hot sauce, and garlic in a large tupperware container. Add shrimp, toss to coat, let stand ten minutes while you cook the risotto. Heat a large cast iron pan, grease with a small amount of olive oil. Add shrimp (cook in several batches if necessary.) Cook a few minutes per side until just opaque. Serve on top of risotto with lime wedges.


Hello, ducks!

I'm jaunting off on a European adventure in, oh, twenty minutes, which means I'll be out of pocket for the next couple of weeks. I'll try to update from the road, but for the most part, I leave you in the lovely and capable hands of Maggie.

See you soon, lovelies!


Monday, February 23, 2009

Almost like being in New York: Pretzel-crusted chicken


I don't know if it's a New York thing or what, but I'm mildly obsessed with the street pretzel. There's no real explanation for it; street pretzels are uniformly dry, too salty/not salty enough, and unvaryingly stale within seconds. However, slathered in mustard, they're still one of my favorite afternoon treats. They're also, for the aforementioned reasons, sometimes a little too gross for me to deal with. It's on those days that I start to consider how I can bring a slightly less scary version of those flavors into my life; it took a very long and taxing week to finally inspire me to do something about it.

I had a dim recollection of a recipe for pretzel-crusted chicken in the November or December issue of Food and Wine; though I couldn't find the actual clipping in my files, a quick spin through the interwebs turned up this, which seemed as good a place as any to start. Naturally, I didn't follow the recipe to a tee; I omitted the oil, replacing it with a buttermilk and mustard marinade, and I swapped out the chicken breasts in favor of my new favorite poultry product, boneless chicken thighs. I also added in some thyme for zing, and (unsurprisingly) a tiny bit of raw garlic (emphasis on "tiny"). The alterations were minor, but the impact was massive--what I ended up with was a low fat powerhouse of flavor: oven baked, tangy, zingy, crunchy, moist and with far more nutritional merit than your average street pretzel.


Flavor-wise, I am very happy with how this turned out; the texture was also very pleasing...though I'll admit: next time, I'm probably going to go whole hog and pulverize the damn pretzels with a hammer. Food processors are great and all, but sometimes you need to work up an appetite, you know?

Pretzel-crusted honey mustard chicken
Adapted from Food and Wine, November 2008

1/2 lb hard pretzels, coarsely crushed
3/4c buttermilk
1/2 c wholegrain mustard
1/8 c honey
1 very, very small clove garlic (the sort that lurks near the heart of the bulb), finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
salt and pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 egg, lightly beaten
  1. Prepare your marinade: combine buttermilk, mustard, honey, thyme, salt and pepper. Mis thorougly and then combine with chicken in a ziptop bag. Marinate in the fridge for up to a day.
  2. Smash the pretzels in your food processor (or with a hammer, if you've had a bad week). You should have fine crumbs and large chunks. Put in a shallow bowl and set aside.
  3. When you're ready to cook, preheat your oven to 400F. Remove the chicken from the fridge and from the marinade; set aside. Combine egg with marinade and mix thoroughly; use this mixture to dredge the chicken thighs before coating them in pretzel chunks. Be sure to coat thoroughly!
  4. Bake in the upper third of your oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken's juices run clear.
  5. Optional: make a little sauce out of buttermilk, mustard and honey. DO NOT USE LEFTOVER MARINADE. Unless you like salmonella.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spicy and Quick: Chipotle Tortilla Soup

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What do we eat when we're not eating macaroni and cheese?

Leftover macaroni and cheese.

When that's (finally) gone, it's time for something lighter and brighter. Something spicy enough to clear out the sinuses. And something Matt can easily reheat for a quick bite before heading out to teach his nighttime class at NYU. (I'm sure the girls would all have crushes on him while he explains Matlab wearing his cute little corduroy jacket...if there were any girls in these sorts of classes.)

I am not going to claim that this recipe is one bit authentic. But it's slightly better than the recipe my mother picked up at Trader Joe's once: dump a container of salsa, a can of beans, a can of corn, and some broth in a pot, stir. And it really does the trick, quickly and cheaply—about five dollars a person, maybe less if you don't have to shop in Manhattan.

You could make a vegetarian version with veggie broth, though I used a container of turkey broth that's been in my cupboard awhile. I know! I'm all out of homemade stock. But given the smoked chiles and the kick of acidity from lime and tomatillo, this is flavorful enough with the boxed stuff. Not that I'd stop you if you have real stock to spare.

If you're not a huge fan of spicy, I'd dial down the chili powder and red pepper flakes but keep the chipotle, which gives the broth a lovely smokey flavor. And fast. Sometimes you just need the kind of dinner that goes from pantry to table in half an hour. We ate huge bowls full along with sweet corn bread (I know, how gauche) until we were stuffed.

Quick Chipotle Tortilla Soup

serves four

2 small onions, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
dash red pepper flakes (optional)
1 qt low-salt stock or broth
3 chipotle chiles in adobo (about half a can), chopped
2 14-oz or 1 28-oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes, including liquid
1/4 cup water (I just add this to the empty tomato cans to clean out the remains)
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained
10 oz frozen corn kernels (one package)
3 tomatillos, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
juice of two small limes
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

for serving:
1 avocado
handful cilantro, chopped
several handfuls tortilla chips
queso fresco (if unavailable, use mild feta or jack cheese)
lime wedges

In a large dutch oven or heavy soup pot, saute chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, and pepper flakes if using. Stir and saute until fragrant, about one minute. Add stock, chipotles, tomatoes, water, and beans. Simmer ten minutes to let flavor mingle. Add corn, tomatillos, red pepper, and lime juice, simmer an additional 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro and taste. Go light on the salt, since the tortilla chips will add a bunch. Slice avocado and divide between bowls, saving a little for a garnish. Put a handful of crumbled tortilla chips in each bowl. Ladle soup on top, and top with additional cilantro, avocado, chips, and crumbled queso fresco. Serve with lime wedges.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Valentine's day massacre: Four cheese macaroni


If you heard a large clanging noise this past Sunday night, it was probably the sound of my arteries slamming shut. I took a page from Maggie's book and decided to make mac and cheese as a post-Valentine's Day-Valentine meal; I knew full well that it was going to be a cholesterol nightmare, but I threw caution to the wind and went for it anyway. If you are looking for a lighter or lower fat mac and cheese, this is not the recipe for you. Consider yourself warned.

So! What made this macaroni so crazy? Well, let's start with a solid pound of grated cheese (four kinds). And then move on to the quarter pound of prosciutto. And from there, to the caramelized shallots and two heads of roasted garlic.

Hungry yet?


Just devising this recipe made me drool like some prehistoric beast; I certainly growled like one once or twice as I assembled it--I lost some quality acreage on my knuckles while grating the cheese. I based the recipe on one that I found in Bon Appetit last month; I was intrigued by their tip to use eggs instead of bechamel for the custard. Though it took some care to achieve (you have to be very careful when mixing the eggs and the cheese sauce if you want to avoid scrambled eggs), it was worth it--the casserole was cheesy, gooey, creamy deliciousness from top to tail, without the trauma of whisking hot milk into flour (though the addition of some tangy buttermilk to the cheesy custard certainly didn't hurt the cause, either).

The topping might have been my favorite part, though--breadcrumbs with parmesan, garlic, and a hint of nutmeg, just to keep things interesting. It's a flavor that most will find hard to place, but it adds a lovely complexity.

Basically, this is a panful of cardiac arrest--and worth every single bite. Make it for someone you love (especially if that someone is yourself) today.

Death mac: Four cheese mac and cheese

1/4 stick butter
6-8 medium sized shallots, sliced thinly
1/4c all purpose flour
1 1/2 c buttermilk
2 c milk
1 lb shredded cheese (a good mix: parmesan, gruyere, manchego, cheddar)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
6 oz pancetta or prosciutto, diced
2 large eggs
2 heads roasted garlic, pureed

1 lb shell pasta (I used whole wheat in an attempt to Healthy. Yeah.)

1/2 c breadcrumbs
1/2 c parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
  1. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and saute until caramelized.
  2. Add prosciutto/pancetta; saute for 3-4 minutes more
  3. Add flour, cook for 2 more minutes
  4. Add milk; bring to a simmer
  5. Add cheese, mustard, and garlic puree. Continue to simmer until cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt
  6. Whisk eggs into medium bowl; gradually whisk in 1 c cheese sauce. GRADUALLY is key--you don't want the eggs to curdle
  7. Add egg mixture back into cheese sauce
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 and cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions.
  9. Prepare topping: breadcrumbs, parmesan, onion and garlic powders, salt.
  10. Add cooked pasta to sauce; turn out into buttered casserole dish.
  11. Top with breadcrumb topping.
  12. Bake 25 min or so, until everything is bubbly and brown and irresistible.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marc Meyer's Five Points Mac and Cheese

I am one of those people who gets dish envy at restaurants. And orderer's remorse. Hopefully, if we go to a restaurant together, you know me pretty well, so you won't be shocked if I ask for a taste of whatever you have that looks so good. And if I ultimately steal your plate and finish every last morsel.

Recently, we went to Five Points restaurant with a large group for brunch. Almost everyone ordered something different, and soon the plates were passed around for tastes. My friend Lindsay had brought along her younger sister, whom I'd never met. But of course I found myself scarfing down the remains of her macaroni and cheese. It was just. So. Good. Crazy-creamy with a strong cheese bite, a rich-but-not greasy or gluey sauce that kept each noodle moist. Divine. I tried to memorize each flavor, which clearly required more than one delicate spoonful. For the good of mankind, right?

So far, Marc Meyer's brunch book had not steered me wrong. His frittata method is great, and the lemon-ricotta pancake recipe has allowed me to faithfully duplicate the Five Points dish to a tee. Why would this be any different?

The ingredients are inspired. His secrets are canned evaporated milk and a block of cream cheese that melts into the sauce. Sharp cheddar and/or gruyere. Good milk and a touch of cream with quite a bit of freshly grated parmesan stirred in. If it worked, this would be my new favorite recipe for the classic dish—no whisking flour into a bechamel! I have been trying to perfect my macaroni and cheese for a long time: I've tried baked and broiled, cheese sauce and simple white sauce, a thousand variations. I have faith in Meyer's ingredients.

But it didn't work as written in the cookbook, so I'm not giving you the recipe yet. I want to play with the proportions first—as soon as we can stomach more mac and cheese. Scaling down restaurant recipes is tricky. Perhaps the sauce quantity needs to be doubled, perhaps more. The sauce looked great, but after baking as instructed, the dish was dry, lacking the creaminess of the restaurant version.

Stay tuned.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Too much is never enough: Black forest cookies.


Get six bakers in a room and you will get six different opinions on what makes The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie. For me, it's got to be chewy, and soft, and (of course) so chocolatey you could implode. I mastered a certain form of chewy while I was in high school--though, what I considered "chewy" was really just, you know. "Undercooked." Which is fine for me, because I am a huge fan of cookie dough; it is not, however, (necessarily) appropriate when one is going to be sharing the cookies with anyone but their fellow dough-hounds. So, a few years ago, I embarked on a great quest to figure out how to make cookies that...well...cook (without being crunchy).

My journey took me to many places: the land of extra baking powder, the thicket of shortening, the back alley of egg-whites-only. Some truly dark, dark places. In the end, the answer wound up being simpler than I could have imagined: refrigerate the dough, and keep it cold. Alarmingly obvious, right? Of course, it makes perfect sense: the cookies I tend to favor are at least 40% butter; if you put it in the oven when it's already started to melt (this applies also to hot cookie sheets--be sure to cool yours for a few minutes between batches!), you're kind of cruising for a bruising.

My journey ALSO took me to a wonderful land: the land of the black forest cookie. Much as I love the traditional chocolate chip cookie, there's only so many times I can make the exact same recipe (in the name of science, of course) before I feel a deep and abiding need to mess with it. In this case, I started thinking that there simply wasn't enough chocolate involved in the chocolate chip cookie, and that it was my moral obligation to sort that out--enter the cocoa powder and the two kinds of chips. Of course, such a decadent disaster was not for the untrained palate; all that chocolate could kill someone without the appropriate background. So, I opted to cut the sweetness a little by throwing in some nice, tart dried cherries. It was at that point that the stars aligned, the heavens opened, the angels sang, and I was fairly certain I was on to something.

And then Bench ate an entire batch in one sitting, and I knew it for sure.

The texture on these things is impossible to explain; they're chewy, sure, but also somehow velvety. They're cohesive, but have a delightful crumb. They're great in milk, and great shoved into your mouth fistfuls at a time.

Try these. Seriously.

Black forest cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
¾ c sugar
¾ c brown sugar
2 eggs
2tsp (or more) vanilla
2 ½ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼-1/2 c cocoa powder
12 oz chocolate chips (a mix of white, milk, and dark)
1/2 c dried cherries, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. cream together butter and sugar
  2. Add eggs then vanilla.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients; slowly mix in to butter mixture.
  4. Chill batter for approximately one hour. Drop on to ungreased cookie sheets (about a dozen per sheet), chilling batter between batches.
  5. Bake for ten minutes. Remove from pan to cool. Be sure to rinse the pan in cold water between batches--you need it to be cool when the batter hits it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Barbecue While You Shop: Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs

I don't mean you can make ribs in the oven or grill while you shop online. You can, but this is better. The weather is great for a minute! Go outside!

These ribs cook while you're gone at work, while you're asleep, while you're hanging out with your kids, or while you're wandering Soho, checking out the sales at the art supply store and Sur la Table. I highly recommend the latter. (Though I think I managed to buy the only thing in there that wasn't discounted.)

I really think slow cookers are worth the counter space, especially for busy folks. And I have precious little counter space. A lot of people have visions of mushy stews and everything tasting the same when it comes out of the crockpot, but really, anything that you braise can be slow-cooked, especially if you're willing to do a little prep work.

They may not be for the purists among you, but for the rest of us, these ribs are tasty, and cheap, and easy. Isn't that a worthy trifecta?

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
Serves two

1 full rack pork spare ribs, trimmed and cut in half
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 oranges
1 lemon
2 bottles of beer
1 dried chipotle pepper
1 18-oz (or so) bottle barbecue sauce (I recommend Stubb's)
hot sauce for serving

Rub ribs with paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder. If you have time, refrigerate after rubbing for 1-3 hours. Zest oranges and lemon. Juice oranges and lemon, adding juice to the slow cooker. Crumble chipotle and add to slow cooker. Bring ribs to room temperature if you refrigerated them. Brown each half of the rack of ribs on both sides in a heavy skillet. Add first half to slow cooker, pour a little barbecue sauce on top, then add second half. Add beers, then top off with more barbecue sauce. Add about 3/4 of the bottle of barbecue sauce total. Ideally ribs will be just submerged in liquid. If you have time, cook ribs for 10-12 hours on low. This way they will be most tender. If not, cook for five hours on high. Remove ribs from liquid (discard liquid), serve with the rest of the barbecue sauce and hot sauce.

If you're preparing these overnight, refrigerate ribs submerged in the cooking liquid (in a casserole, not your slow cooker insert) during the day. Before heating, remove fat from surface. Reheat in the oven, finishing with a quick broil to crisp them up if you want.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Simplicity itself: Honey mustard salmon


Lean in, I'll tell you something: this dish is my secret weapon.

Honey mustard salmon! It's simple, it's elegant, it's delicious. It's also ludicrously easy to make, and (incidentally) has been the star player in every successful seduction of my adult life, platonic or otherwise. I bring this up only because it's the week before Valentine's day, and if I were not going to be playing a show on the day itself (shameless plug 9pm at the National Underground, for all you New Yorkers! Ask for Autobahn da Fe! /shameless plug ), this is the dinner I would be making for Bench to usher in another year of his fealty happiness and harmony. I typically pair it with roasted asparagus, but it really plays well with most vegetables; most recently, I paired it with cauliflower and purple potatoes.

Aside from being texturally unimpeachable and just generally delicious, this dish has two major things going for it:
1. It has precisely four ingredients, including the salmon.
2. It takes approximately 45 seconds to assemble.

It's really the perfect meal for those days when you want to make an impression but have a thousand other things to take care of before you can do so. Go ahead and clean the bathtub! Run to the bank! Go to the nail salon! Live dangerously! All you need is ten to fifteen minutes to get this dish from fridge to plate (if you're using filets; slightly longer if you adapt it for a bigger slab o' fish), so you can get home (or emerge from your lair) with as little as twenty minutes to go time (I'm giving you an extra five minutes to actually round up the ingredients in your pantry). Your date will be putty in your perfectly manicured hands. I am not kidding. Putty.

Be sure to make him/her do the dishes.

Honey mustard salmon

2 salmon filets

1/4c honey
1/4c wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp soy sauce
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. Mix the honey, mustard, and soy sauce.
  3. Coat the salmon with the glaze
  4. Put the salmon in a roasting dish and whack it in the oven until the center is opaque (5-10 minutes, depending on how rare you like it. I prefer it pretty much still flopping around, so I tend to give everyone else's portions a 3-4 minute head start before putting mine in.)