Monday, March 16, 2009

Fresh Pasta with Baby Artichokes

Sometime in the past couple of weeks, I started craving artichokes, fresh artichokes. My mouth started watering while I was reading the latest Saveur. It offered twelve different artichoke dishes and before I knew it, I picked up a dozen baby chokes at the market.
While thinking of what dish the cute little artichokes would find their final resting place, I took off on Rt. 2, heading west for a client meeting. I was in luck! My clients' exit was also the exit for Idylwilde Farms. This is where I would find my inspiration.

Subtle hints of the spring welcomed me into the store with colorful flowers lining the entrance way. After doing some quick browsing, my eyes fell upon some fresh pasta in the refrigerator section. "Okay, that will do", I thought. Dinner was done! I grabbed some leeks, creminis, garlic and lemon and headed home.

Prepping artichokes may sound scary and hard, but especially with the smaller ones, it's quite easy. There are actually nine different varieties of artichokes, many holding an aubergine hue on their leaves. I rarely see those around here. Most of what's in the markets are globe artichokes and their babies, which is what I had.

To prep, get some acidulated water ready and then just peel back the leaves until you reach the pale green center. Chop off the top third, trim the stem, and toss them into the water. There! You're done! I simmered the hearts with some black peppercorns and a bay leaf, as well as a bunch of lemons. Because they were so small, par cooking them doesn't take long at all. You're welcome to cook them all the way here, but I wanted to get a nice sear of them for my pasta dish.

Meanwhile, I sauteed the leeks, garlic and mushrooms together and put them aside. Then, after draining the hearts, I quickly sauteed them and added them to the rest of the vegetables.

The fresh pasta took about 1 1/2 minutes to cook and as soon as I pulled it out, I added it to the vegetable mix along with some of the pasta water. Voila! Dinner is served! I small shaving of Parmesan cheese or lemon zest on top is an added level of ecstasy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Friends of Dana-Farber

Last week, I participated in the Friends of Dana Farber event, "Chefs Cooking for Hope." Now in its 11th year with an estimated 400 guests, its an evening filled with enjoying food and beverages from the top locales on Boston. From champagne and pineapple vodka to pork belly BLTs and mini lobster rolls, stomachs were full and thousands of dollars were donated to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
I decided to make a scallop and blood orange ceviche. Blood oranges are in season now, from October until May-ish and their dazzling ruby color is gorgeous. Contrasted with the creamy white of the scallops, along with some wasabi caviar to garnish, my sampling was a big hit.

Now, because we live in America, people freaked out about raw or undercooked seafood. Of course, ceviche is raw. But sadly, I had to parcook the scallops knowing that it would be less popular if it was totally raw. And a good thing I did because multiple people asked, "Is this cooked?"

Cooked for about a minute that is, in salted boiling water. Then the scallops were combined with pineapple juice, orange juice, lemon and lime juice, hot sauce, and coconut milk. I only marinated them a little before the event so they wouldn't get gummy or chewy.

After sectioning the blood oranges and picking up the wasabi caviar I was on my way. The evening lasted from 6-10. Cupcakes and lobster were everywhere. Other notable dishes included: mini fig and brie brioche sandwiches, sirloin tartare, and bread pudding. Check out some pics from the event here:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brisket Chili with Ancho Peppers and Butternut Squash

For some reason, I thought we were done with the snow. Yes, I know it's still February, but I just felt like we've all endured what we can this winter. CSA's a starting to quietly be talked about, gorgeous spring flowers are appearing at Whole Foods, and there have been some teaser days in the 50s. Alas, I realize we are in New England and it could possibly snow here in April. But I'm not holding my breath.

My husband and I went to brunch with our good friends the other morning and she said she was making some pulled pork for dinner that night. She popped it into her slow cooker and was done! Braising in the cooking method of choice in these winter months and I was quickly reminded that I haven't contributed enough to the art of braising myself this season.

So this week, I will make up for it. Last night, we started with a brisket chili. When you think chili, you might think tomatoes, beans, sour cream, cheese. But there are a million variations out there and in your own little head. I've never loved beans in chili. I pick around them and they would look up at me sad and lonely at the bottom of the dish when I was finished. But we were just never meant to share the same chili bowl.
On the other hand, chili with brisket, instead of ground meat, is an added twist of texture, comfort and delishousness. The dish braised in the oven for about two hours and then I added the diced squash and simmer it for another hour on the stove top.
To start with, I sauteed some bacon and then brown the seasoned meat in the bacon fat. (Note to self: Start storing bacon fat to have on hand). The meat was seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, cardamon, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and cinnamon. Meanwhile, I purreed some ancho chili that were soaking, with some crushed tomatoes. After the meat was browned, I removed it, sauteed some onions, added two bay leaves, and then added the meat back to the dutch oven. After a quick stir to combine everything, I poured in the tomato/ancho mixture, along with an Otter Creek Porter. Into the oven for two hours.
The kitchen soon smells of the sweet cinnamon and cumin, with a slight nose burn that reminded me of the ancho peppers. Two hours later, I transferred my Le Creuset dish to the stove top, added the diced squash, and let it simmer for another hour or so, until the meat and squash was cooked.
Just before served I added some steamed corn and fresh parsley. Taste before you serve. This needed a good dose of salt to bring out all of the flavors.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Comfort in Cayman

After returning from the sun and heat to the clouds and cold, I have vowed to make some Cayman inspired dishes to help prolong our vacation (at least mentally). Cayman cuisine is seafood: wahoo, turtle, grouper, mahi, local lobster, and of course the trigger fish (we caught that and grilled it for dinner one night). Although probably every menu had rack of lamb and steaks. I never knew where the meat was coming from so I ate seafood each night.

While flipping through some menus that I brought home with me, I saw a vegetarian option that reminded me nothing at all about the islands, but our first night, I wanted comfort. After the long schlep home, with the brief stop in Houston, a lightly grilled fish with a mango sauce wasn't watering my taste buds. So I compromised on the first dish. It was on one of the local menus, but isn't Cayman-esque in nature: Penne with Portabellas, Roasted Tomatoes, and Spinach.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Brief Tribute.

I recently returned from the sun and turquoise water of the Cayman Islands. Sadly the end of the week came with the news of the passing of my Aunt Kathy. She had battled breast cancer and an ensuing brain tumor for close to five years. And finally, she lost her battle.
After spending two days with family in Houston, my husband and I returned home. Our dog recognized us but felt distant, perhaps fearing that we would quickly disappear again. I spent a few hours with her this morning at the park, tromping through the woods. Her floppy ears danced in the air and her dark coat quickly covered with snow.
While drifting through the bare trees and evergreens, tracing the tracks of the previous cross country skiers, my mind drifted to memories of my aunt. Her goofy and tender moments filled my head and while tears quietly filled my eyes, I was smiling. Spending winters with her and her family skiing in Aspen, I remember her apres ski routine. She would prance around the house in her underwear and bra, barefooted and grinny ear to ear reflecting on her day on the slopes.
Even though she spent most of her life in Houston, Texas, she was a Jersey girl at heart. And more than that, she was a South Orange girl. And with that comes the sweet taste of Sloppy Joe's from Town Hall Deli. Whenever my family would visit in Texas, we brought some with us and the gleam in Kathy's eye shined ever more so when she saw the rectangular waxed wrapped sandwiches. And who wouldn't when they looked like this inside:
I think because I have such a small family, to lose someone is all that more painful and emotional for me. I felt guilty getting on the plane in Houston to head back to Boston. Part of me still thinks on our next ski trip out West, she will be there at the house, waiting for us to arrive and welcoming us in.
She will not only never be forgotten, but she will be remembered often in my mind.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Moroccan Lamb Chops with White Bean Salad

Lamb chops are usually pretty pricey on restaurants menus. When frenched, they are beautiful and delicate and delicious. I grew up with my mother making lamb chops frequently. But she never frenched the bones. She tossed them under the broiler with a little Lawry's seasoning salt and they cooked within minutes. The meat was always tender and slightly gamey, with the subtle hints of salt and paprika. But the true of those chops was the fat and meat stuck to the bones. We would nibble on them as if it was a piece of corn on the cob.

But last night, I frenched the chops. I couldn't help myself. I thought about the bacon mac n'cheese and realized I didn't need the extra grizzle in my diet. Plus, frenched chops make for a beautiful presentation.

Earlier in the afternoon, I made a Moroccan spice mix and seared the meat. Only needing 8-10 minutes in the oven for medium rare, I waited until my husband got home to finish the cooking. I'm sure you can find spice mixes for purchase online and at high end retail cooking stores, but it's just so simple to make one at home, it seems silly to spend the money. I also keep a variety of spices on hand, so it's also less expensive to make my own. Check out recipe websites and I'm sure you can find a combination of spices, but I just threw some together that reflect the Moroccan culture:

I took each double chop and dipped them into the spice mixture and seared them for 2-3 minutes until they developed a nice crust on the lamb. Them I put them in the refrigerator until it was time for dinner. I would suggest taking them out 20 minutes or so before you plan to roast them to let them come down to room temperature.

Canned white beans are always an option but dried beans are far more flavorful and creamy. It's best to soak them overnight and simply simmer them in stock until they are cooked through. I flavored the stock with fresh thyme, garlic, and a bay leaf. Once the beans are cooked, season them with salt and pepper and add anything you want to them. Spinach, tomatoes, escarole, creative. Enjoy!

By the way, I purcahse 4 double chops and they were only$20. Much more affordable than paying restaurant prices.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seared Scallops with Orange Pecan Green Beans

I've been on a scallop kick lately. On Saturday night, I had them with some delicious balsamic glazed baby brussels sprouts and on Monday night, I had them with Mexican style with some tomatilla salsa. What's not to like about scallops. They are naturally sweet but can also stand up to any flavorings you choose.

Last night, I chose oranges. Determined to make a dent in our stock pile of Florida's finest, I grabbed six oranges, juiced them, and them, and reduced the juice to create a sweet sauce/glaze for the green beans. Whisking in a little unsalted butter would have brought the dish to another level, but I'm still in the 'it's time to eat healthy' phase.

First things first: searing scallops. Here are the key points.
1. Keep you product dry. If you feel the need to rinse, that's fine, but before you sear, dry the product and season it well with salt and pepper. (Oil and water doesn't mix, it splatters)
2. Non stick pan always helps. Turn the heat to high and let the pan get hot.
3. Add a little oil. You're don't want to pan fry, so a little oil. For added flavor you can use a little butter combined with the oil. (I wouldn't use butter soley because it will brown too quickly).
4. Let the oil get hot.
5. Gently place the product into the pan with the side you want to sear face down.
6. Don't touch it!!! If you're cooking something totally on the stove top, (scallops, shrimp, thin chicken, or anything else that doesn't need a lot of cooking time) turn the heat down to medium once a nice crust forms. Otherwise, you can keep the heat high and finish cooking in the oven (steak, lamb, ect).
7. Turn the product when a nice crust has formed. Scallops, for example, don't take long to cook. So sear them for 3-4 minutes (not touching them) and then flip them to finish the cooking for antoher 2-4 minutes. Time of cooking depends on the size of the product.

These tips aren't specific to scallops. They are specific to searing. And that means anything, from mushrooms to chicken to apples.

I blanched the green beans earlier in the day and just tossed them with the toasted pecans and hot organe glaze when I was ready to serve the meal. Following the culinary rule of everything is best in odd numbers, I added five scallops to each plates and then added the green bean salad.