Thursday, October 30, 2008

Herby goat cheese-arugula omelet

This is one of those quick, cheatery recipes that I am not sure are even worth posting on, but maybe you’ll find it delicious. It’s great for a morning that just needs something more exciting for breakfast and when you don’t feel like going out, like, say, maybe the morning after a long day of beer festival attendance, parade watching and pumpkin carving. It’s very “hmm, what’s in the fridge?” I had just 4 eggs left, so that’s how many went into this—it’s obviously pretty flexible for more or less though.

Beat 4 eggs with about 1/3 cup of milk, a pinch of salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Get a pan hot with 1 tablespoon butter in it and when it melts, toss in at least a cup (but more if you have it lying around) arugula and sauté in the butter until it wilts. Remove the arugula and add another 1 tablespoon of butter (yes, it’s buttery, but you need it with your hangover) to melt over medium-high heat. When that’s melted, turn the heat down to medium and pour in your beaten egg mixture. Let it set for 1 minute, then arrange the arugula and a handful of the crumbled herby goat cheese leftover from last night’s party on one half. When the bottom has set, tip your pan and gently fold over the empty side of the egg mixture over the top of your arugula and cheese.Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out, you can always moosh it together or scramble it at the last moment and it will still taste great. It’s very forgiving. After another 2 minutes, poke at it to see if you like the consistency—I always like my scrambled eggs and omelets kind of on the hard side, even with browned bits. It’s very un-chic. But eggs are very much personal, so if you like them wobbly and pale, just take them off sooner than I would, which is probably more like a full, unforgivable, 5 minutes. Cut in half, if you are sharing, and serve immediately.

Monday, October 27, 2008


These were sort of accidental pickles, because I had a lot of fresh produce that I was worried about going to waste. Also, they are not the kind of pickles that require canning or sterilization of jars—these are just refrigerator pickles that are pretty flexible for playing around with flavors and stuff. I made one kind with baby zucchini and another with watermelon radishes. Oh yes, watermelon radishes are back, available from my favorite French lady who sells them at the Morningside farmer’s market so I can look forward to having those in my life again. They’re just so pretty. And these baby zucchini were sort of amazing looking too—they were no bigger than about 1 ½-2” in length and had amazing patterns of yellow and green on them. They were adorable. So I pickled them.I decided to make the radish pickles more sour and the zucchini pickles more bread-and-butter sweet types. The lesson I learned is that it’s hard to make things sour without making them taste harsh, but we’ll get more into that in a minute. First I sliced up my baby zukes in half, almost cutting off my finger, as you can see.Then I made thin rounds of my dramatic-looking watermelon radishes.In a saucepan I combined 3 bay leaves with 1 cup white vinegar, ½ cup sugar, ½ cup salt, 2 tablespoons pickling spices, 1 tablespoon whole peppercorn and 1 teaspoon dill, and brought it to a boil for 4 minutes. I poured this mixture over the sliced watermelon radishes, as well as ¼ of a thinly sliced onion. For my zucchini, I returned to my now-empty pot and added in ½ cup regular sugar, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon whole cloves, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, and 1/3 cup salt. Added 1 cup white vinegar and brought this all to a boil for 4 minutes, as before. Poured this all over a bowl with my sliced zucchini and about 8 cloves of garlic and let it sit for a few minutes while I packed up the radishes into a couple of glass jars. By then, the zucchini were a bit cooled off and ready to get packed up into jars as well. They sat in the fridge for 2 days, although they'd probably have been OK to eat within one day. These were kind of awesome--I think the zucchini was WAY better than the radish which was too harsh/sour, but as you can see, it's pretty flexible and fun to experiment with.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chicken with squash dumplings and root vegetables

This is a neo-chicken and dumplings that uses fall root vegetables and a very untraditional dumpling. I had made a batch of squash gnocchi and there was a ton of it, so I divided the dough in half and froze one lump of it. I thought about it and realized the gnocchi could be really similar to a soft, delicious dumpling if treated slightly differently—adding more fuel to my hypothesis that all cultures intersect in food, they just call things by different names. This is a good and slightly more sophisticated variation on the classic chicken n’ dumplins’ — the root vegetables and squash both bring a subtle sweetness that goes nicely with the clean, herbaceous chicken broth.

The step-by-step recipe for squash gnocchi is here, but I can recap the process easily by telling you to 1.) halve and roast a Kabocha squash, then put the flesh in a big bowl (I always run it through a food mill first to make it smooth but you can get away without doing that), 2.) mix in 1 or 2 beaten eggs, along with a pinch of nutmeg, tons of fresh ground black pepper and at least a teaspoon of salt, 3.) add flour until you have a stiff dough. Now, this is where you have options. If you want to make traditional gnocchi, roll your dough into snakes then slice the snakes into ½” long chunks, tine with a fork and toss into boiling water until they float to the top. Or, do what I did last week, which was to simply grab off little pieces of the dough instead of the sticky work of rolling them out. I call these “ugly gnocchi,” and they really are. But they are also a bit lighter and fluffier after boiling—I believe this is due to less overworking of the dough. Like I always say—you do not want to overwork quick doughs as they can become tough and turn to lives of crime. Anyway, you can also stick the dough in the fridge to make it easier to work with, or, as I did, freeze half of it, then pull out your frozen dough lump about 30 minutes early to make it sliceable, then chop it up into pretty little chunks that are ready to become the dumplings to your chicken. Well, now that your dumpling step is squared away, let’s move on to preparing the vegetables. I chose parsnip, carrot and fennel along with tiny little pearl onions to change up the roster of the usual vegetables in this dish. Slice the carrot and parsnip into matchsticks of equal size. I do this by cutting them in half, then lengthwise, then slice as evenly as possible. That’s hard to describe in words, so I will take a picture of it at some point, but they should look really even when you are done. It can be hard with parsnip because one end is usually so much bigger than the other, but you must persevere. Lop off the frondy green top of your fennel bulb and set aside for some other use. I don’t know what. Sometimes I put it into my soup stocks, but that’s about the best use I’ve thought of for it—anyone have any other ideas? Slice the bulb into wedges that are about the same width as your parsnip and carrot sticks. Now for your pearl onions—these are so annoying. Just buy the frozen, peeled ones. Otherwise, do as I did and dump the fresh ones you foolishly bought in boiling water for one minute. They will slip out of their skins, saving you a headache of peeling the little bastards, but not as much as if you’d just bought the frozen ones instead. Start by heating 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a big pan over medium-high heat. When hot, toss in your parsnip, fennel and carrot. Sprinkle the vegetables with 1 teaspoon sugar and sauté them for just a minute or so to get them fully coated with the butter-olive oil, then let them sit to get nicely browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir them up and let them go for another 3 minutes, then remove to a plate.Now chuck your peeled pearl onions into the big pan over the medium-high heat and sauté them until lightly browned—about 5-7 minutes—then remove and set aside. In a nice big dutch oven, get 1 tablespoon olive oil nice and hot over medium heat. Add in as many pieces of chicken as you want or will fit. I used 6 bone-in thighs. Cook them for about 10-15 minutes, until almost all the way done through with a nice, browned skin, then remove and set aside. I sort of crowded mine too much for optimal browning so maybe I should have used the bigger pan, the one I browned the veggies in. Learn from my foolishness! Now, chop up 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts into small bite-size chunks and brown those quickly in the same pot, for about 4 minutes. Now add in 6 cups of chicken stock, and bring it to a simmer. Add in all the vegetables and let cook for 7 minutes, then add in your dumplings and a handful of minced parsley. They will swell up like delicious little squashy balloons. Add in your chicken thighs with the skin side up to keep them from sogging up if possible, and cook for another 2 minutes or so to heat them thorough in case they’ve cooled off while waiting for you. Taste to see if the broth needs salt or pepper, and check on the doneness of the chicken thighs. Serve in shallow bowls with lots of fresh pepper on top and good bread to dip in the broth.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy birthday

Guess what today is? It's Il Piatto Blu's birthday--2 years old today. For a present there's a new masthead up top. I look forward to lots more dinner parties to celebrate...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cashew chicken

The funniest thing about this is that it was inspired by a recipe from Cooking Light magazine, and that I then systematically removed the "light" part. It was one of the reader-submitted recipes, where you send in a recipe of something you like and then the good people at the magazine make it less unhealthy for you. A noble and just cause, for sure. I thought this recipe sounded pretty good--it sounded pretty much like a famous Indian dish, butter chicken or murgh makhani, made with cashews. They saved on some fat by decreasing the amount of nuts, leaving out the butter, using all white meat, etc. I compared and contrasted with some classic versions of murgh makhani and cobbled together my own version, somewhat unlightened.

I got 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts and 4 boneless thighs. I think this recipe really does need dark meat for best flavor, but you may, of course, do whatever the hell you want. Chopped up the meat into more-or-less bite size chunks, then set aside. I also minced up and set aside 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons fresh ginger. In a big bowl, I combined 1 cup cashews with 1 cup thick, greek-style yogurt, most of a small, 6-ounce can of tomato paste, 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (any kind of light vinegar is fine--white wine, whatever), half the minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of the minced fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon each red pepper flakes, salt and garam masala. Then I got my awesome immersion blender, mentally thanked my father, from whom it was a christmas present, and immersion-blended the whole mixture into a chunky paste.If you do not have an immersion blender, I'm sure a regular blender would work, or a food processor. Ask your priest. Then I added all my chicken chunks in......and mixed it all up really well.You can leave this in the nut-yogurt mixture to marinate overnight, or for a few hours. Presumably, the longer it gets the more delicious it will be. I only had an hour or so, but I wished I'd had longer. When you are ready to make dinner, melt about 1/4 cup of butter in a big dutch oven. You can use clarified butter, or ghee, if you have it, and that will be really delicious. In this hot melted butter, sauté 1 minced onion.When the onion is soft and lightly golden, clear a space in the center of the pot and add 1 teaspoon each cumin, cardamom, paprika and cinnamon along with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder and a healthy pinch of vindaloo powder or sweet curry powder. Allow these spices to bloom in the center of the pot in the hot butter for 1 minute. Add in your chicken along with all the delicious nut-yogurt mixture and another handful of whole cashew nuts and the rest of the minced ginger and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring well. Stir in 1 cup of chicken stock and let cook for 30 minutes or so, then add 1/3 cup cream or half-and-half and let cook for another 10 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick you can add more chicken stock, or if it seems too thin, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid. It shouldn't be too thin though. While it's all cooking, make some basmati rice (I made it using brown basmati rice, which was really good), and when the cashew chicken is all done, serve it over the rice. This is so creamy and delicious--I think you'll be quite pleased. Serve it with naan bread for true happiness.I forgot to mention also, if you feel like it, you can make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the finished cashew chicken--just take a cup and a half of the yogurt you used to marinate the chicken and shred half of a cucumber into it, then chop the rest of the cucumber and put that in too along with a pinch of red pepper flakes and salt and pepper and maybe a little lemon juice. Stir well and set aside until dinner.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ricotta-chard pasta

Our new student intern at work, Veda, comes with many qualifications, but in my eyes the real selling point for her was that she runs an organic garden in her spare time. She very graciously brought me some of her chard surplus, probably because I was not very subtle once I found out about it. I decided to make pasta of some kind with the chard, and this really reminds me of something my mom often makes--the combination of greens with raisins and pinenuts is kind of Sicilian. I think my mom loves it with cauliflower though, which is a variation I don't make that often. This here is sort of like a glorified mac and cheese, but with greens and a bit more sophisticated.

Get a big bunch of lovely fresh chard by abusing your power with a student intern, or via some other means. Wash and dry it well, then slice the stems off the leaves and mince them. Stack, then roll the leaves and cut them into a chiffonade, then again crosswise through the chiffonade slices in order to make short, manageble pieces of chard leaves, then set aside. Heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, then add in 1/2 a minced onion and sauté until soft--about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 small clove minced garlic and sauté just for a minute or so more to soften it. Now add in your chard leaves and stems. It will seem like it takes up a lot of room, but by quickly stirring the leaves in the olive oil over medium heat, you will see that a big pile of chard soon wilts down in mass quite a bit. You will find yourself wishing you had a lot more chard because it decreases in amount so much once it is cooked. Well, there's no helping that now, is there? You should have bullied your intern more when you had the chance.After you have sautéed your chard into wilty submission (about 3 minutes or so), add in a handful of golden raisins. Continue to sauté for another 2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.Get yourself about a cup and a half of ricotta cheese (perhaps whatever is leftover from a lasagna-making adventure earlier in the week?) and mix it well with salt and pepper. Add in your chard mixture along with a handful of pinenuts and stir well until it's all fully integrated into the ricotta.Meanwhile, bring a salted pot of water to boil and cook up a package of penne pasta in it until just shy of al dente. You can use whatever kind of pasta you like, actually, I'm not trying to micromanage. Drain the not-quite-al dente pasta and toss it with the ricotta-chard mixture in a baking dish.Grate a little parmesan cheese over the top and add some breadcrumbs if you like as well.Bake it in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or so--long enought to get it all cheesy-crispy and browned.There you go. Enjoy with some green veggies and delicious wine.