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Showing posts with label comfort food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comfort food. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cold Nights, Warm Food - Potatoes Au Gratin and Steak Charred on a Carbon Steel Pan

It's comfort food time. Cold nights call for warm dinners with deeply satisfying dishes.

What makes you feel good in cold weather? What about a vegetable soup flavored with roasted tomato sauce and filled with roughly chopped carrots, green cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and string beans? Or spaghetti tossed with charred cauliflower buds and shallots with an anchovy-butter sauce?

I made those last week and they were delicious. Tonight I wanted meat, a starch and a green. Pretty basic stuff. Add in a Prairie vodka martini with an olive and I was definitely comforted.
Usually when I cook a steak, I make mashed potatoes with butter, half and half and sautéed scallions. Tonight I wanted something different. For some reason the idea of potatoes au gratin seemed like the way to go. I'd still have the soft potatoes to contrast with the steak but the au gratin would give me a crunchy top.

The green was my favorite: an escarole salad with blue cheese, pickled green beans, fresh chopped tomatoes (this is California so it's easy to find flavorful heirloom tomatoes at the farmer market) and carrot rounds with an olive oil and reduced balsamic dressing.

This entire deliciously comforting meal took 50-60 minutes to prepare. In actual work time, you'll do 20 minutes and otherwise be waiting for the potatoes to do their thing.

First thing is get the potatoes au gratin going. The recipe for that is below.

Because the steak should be hot from the oven and loses quality if it has to wait around for the other dishes, make the salad next. If you can't find escarole, which I learned to love when I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, use red leaf or romaine lettuce.

The salad and steak
Escarole is slightly bitter and the leaves are rough, so it holds up well in a tossed salad. Tear the leaves into bite sized pieces, peel the carrot and make paper thin carrot rounds, add a 1/4 cup of another vegetable like salt steamed green beans (I make pickled green beans) or cooked corn kernels in the summer, 1 tablespoon of chopped pitted olives and homemade croutons if you have them.

Dress with the olive oil and reduced balsamic (you make that by putting 1 cup of balsamic into a small saucepan on a low flame and reducing the volume to 1/4 cup, cool and use in the normal proportion except the balsamic is now slightly sweet) after the steak is cooked and you are ready to eat.
There are lots of great ways to cook a steak. I'm really happy with the results I get using a carbon steel pan, which, I know, isn't easy to find. In Manhattan, Zabar's on the Upper West Side sells them (second floor). In LA, Surfas in Culver City has them until they sell out, then the wait can be awhile until the next shipment from France gets through the traffic jam in LA Harbor.
Carbon steel chars vegetables and a steak equally well. It is easy and the results are fantastic. A cast iron pan is a close substitute but in my opinion not as good. Before charring the steak, heat the pan without any oil until the metal starts to smoke, To use a high-temperature pan requires that you have a good quality exhaust fan in the hood over your burners. Otherwise, the smoke will set off the fire alarums and the house will fill with smoke. Not good.

Once the pan is smoking, add a small amount of blended oil (80% canola, 20% olive oil). A really small amount, maybe a 1/2 teaspoon is all you need. Throw in a handful of shredded onions. Toss with tongs so they char not burn. Throw in a handful of thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms. Maybe drizzle on another 1/2 teaspoon of blended oil. Toss, turn and don't burn. When the onions and shiitakes are lightly browned, transfer them to a plate and set aside.
The steak needs to be a good quality either bone-in or fillet. Allow the meat to reach room temperature. Dredge in olive oil then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Both sides.

Get that carbon steel pan going again. When the metal is smoking, use tongs to gently place the steak into the middle of the pan. Allow the meat to sear 3-4 minutes, then use the tongs to turn it over. Sear another 3-4 minutes. Then place the pan and the steak into the preheated 350F oven. Depending on the thickness of the steak, bake 5-10 minutes. Use a pairing knife to cut into the middle to test for doneness.

Once the steak is the way you like it, remove from the oven. Put the charred onions and shiitakes back in the pan and lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top. Let the meat rest 5 minutes. That will also heat the veggies.

Serve hot with the potatoes au gratin straight out of the oven and the escarole salad crisp and cold.

Don't forget the Prairie vodka martini with an olive.

Ok, now the recipe for the potatoes au gratin.

Potatoes Au Gratin 

Serves 4

Time to prep: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes to salt boil, 30 minutes to bake, 2-5 minutes to broil

Total time to cook: 72-75 minutes

Ingredients

4 medium sized good quality potatoes, preferably King Edward or Baby Yukon, washed
1/4 cup half and half or whole milk
1/2 stick sweet butter (no salt)
1 cup white cheddar cheese, roughly grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup bread crumbs, fine, preferably homemade

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

Fill a quart sized pot with water. Add kosher salt and potatoes, washed but not peeled. Bring to boil. Cover and cook 30 minutes. To test for doneness, insert pairing knife into each potato. The knife should have some resistance when inserted. Drain, set aside to cool.

When cool, use paring knife to remove skin only. Reserve skin to sauté at breakfast and serve with scrambled eggs and bacon.

So you can work like you're on an assembly line, place all the ingredients on a cutting board around a rectangular or a pie sized, bake-proof pan with a low lip, about 2".

Make thin potato slices (about 1/4"). Use a pairing knife for better control. This part is a bit tedious because making so many thin slices can take a few minutes. The result is worth your patience.

You are going to make layers in the baking pan in the following order: overlapping layer of thin potato slices, then paper thin slices of butter, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then potato slices then butter slices and seasoning and so on until all of the potato slices are in the baking pan.
Place a final layer of thin butter slices on the potato slices and season. Pour in the half and half or whole milk. Sprinkle on grated white cheddar cheese and finish with bread crumbs.

Place baking pan on a baking sheet and place in oven 30 minutes.

At this point the potatoes are cooked and can be reserved and reheated just before serving.

When everyone is sitting at the table, ready to eat, set oven to broil to brown the topping. Be careful not to burn. If broiling makes you nervous, skip this step and place the potatoes into a 350F oven to reheat for 5 minutes.

Serve hot.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick and Easy Mac & Cheese Goes Au Naturel

I remember the "blond" stage of cooking for our sons. White bread, spaghetti with butter and that store-bought, powdered flavorless Parmesan cheese and, of course, Mac & Cheese. We kept boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese in the pantry so we could make the boys food whenever they wanted.

Once they graduated from high school and left for college, we stopped making Mac & Cheese. A few months ago, I was cleaning out the pantry and found a box pushed way to the back. I think it expired in 2007.

Last week we were invited to a pot luck dinner party. For no reason in particular, the dish we were to bring was Mac & Cheese.
As classic American dishes have gotten make-overs in the past decade, restaurants now serve Mac & Cheese with lobster, Dungeness crab, shrimp, truffles, artisanal cheeses, blue cheese, heritage bacon, gruyere béchamel sauce and gluten free pasta.

For the dinner party I wanted to make a Mac & Cheese that was close to the comfort food we served the boys with a few "adult" touches, but not so many that the dish lost it's identity.
I prepared the Mac & Cheese two ways. One, with charred shallots and kale added for color and texture. The second, I added slow roasted Roma tomatoes and thin sliced shiitake mushrooms along with the shallots and kale.

Mac & Cheese Au Naturel

To be "comforting," Mac & Cheese needs hot fats. Cheese alone won't be smooth enough, so I added heavy cream, whole milk and sweet butter. Not very dietetic but it tastes good. Serve the Mac & Cheese with a tossed green salad and fresh fruit for dessert and the calories will balance out.

For the cheese, use whatever kind you like. I used Kerrygold white cheddar and that worked well.

Serves 4

Time to prep: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 20 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 pound small macaroni pasta
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/2 pound good quality white cheddar, shredded
1 cup kale, preferably curly green or purple Lacinato, washed, pat dried, leaves removed from rib and thin sliced
2 tablespoons shallots or 1/2 small yellow onion, washed, pat dried, skin and ends removed, thin sliced
1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs
2 large Roma tomatoes, washed pat dried (optional)
1/2 cup shiitake, brown or portabella mushrooms, washed, pat dried, thin sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

1. If using Roma tomatoes (optional), preheat oven to 200F. Cut each tomato in half, slicing from top to bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat sheet or parchment paper. Place in oven. Roast eight hours. Remove. Let cool. Remove and discard skins. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Bring 1 gallon water with kosher salt to a boil. Add pasta. Stir well. Cook 8 minutes. When draining pasta, reserve 1 cup salted pasta water. Toss pasta and set aside.

3. Place a carbon steel pan or a sauté pan that can take high heat (not a non-stick pan) on the burner. Char the shallot or onion slices in a few drops of oil. Remove when edges are blackened being careful not to burn. Remove. Set aside. Do the same with the kale. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside. If using mushrooms (optional), add a few drops of oil to the hot pan. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside.

4. Melt butter in carbon steel or sauté pan. Add milk and heavy cream. Stir well. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

5. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

6. Break apart cooked macaroni and add to pan. Stir well to coat. Simmer 5 minutes.

7. Add charred shallots or onions and kale. Stir well. If using slow roasted Roma tomatoes, fine chop and add to pasta along with charred mushrooms.

8. Transfer cooked pasta to large bowl. Add shredded cheese. Toss well. If more sauce is desired add 1/4 cup pasta water, remembering that it is salty so use sparingly.

9. Transfer to decorative baking dish. Top with bread crumbs. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is gooey and bubbling. Serve hot.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Asian Noodles Take a Trip to Italy

My wife is out town. I'm home alone and hungry. Since I work at the house, my routine is to write during the day and have dinner with my wife when she gets home from her office. Cooking our dinner gives shape to my day, since I plan the meal in the morning and do the prep when I'm taking breaks during the day.

Having dinner together is a fun part of the day. Over a meal with a salad, main course and a couple of side dishes, we have time to catch up.

Now I have to contemplate dinner for one and that's not as much fun.
Staring at the open refrigerator, considering what left-overs I could eat or what bits and pieces I could put together to make a meal (a farmers market Fuji apple with slices of comte cheese and bacon from breakfast), a different approach occurred to me.

Having grown up eating instant ramen, a cup of noodles is always the way to go when hunger strikes. But I'm a bit hesitant to go that route because of the high salt content and the predominance of chemical additives in the soup base. Happily, shopping at Asian markets, it's easy to see that ramen is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to easy-to-make noodles.
Even in mainstream supermarkets, if you look in the Asian foods section, you'll find packages of dried egg and rice noodles. Go to an Asian market and the selection will border on the comic with aisle after aisle of fresh and dried noodles. Costing two or three dollars, one package of Asian noodles will easily feed 4-6 people.
If you want, you can certainly prepare the noodles with Asian sauces and ingredients. Personally, I like to combine the noodles with braised meat or poultry and vegetables from our local farmers market. The result is a deliciously comforting Asian-Italian fusion.

I like the dish so much, when my wife comes home, I'll make a bowl for her.

Asian Noodles, Italian Style

Use raw meat and poultry or leftovers from another meal. For stock, home made is preferable to avoid the excessive amounts of sodium in canned versions. The dish can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and poultry. Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones I used and, if you like heat, dust the braise with cayenne or a scattering of pepper flakes.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 pounds uncooked deboned chicken, pork shoulder or top sirloin, washed, pat dried and thin sliced or use 1 1/2 pounds cooked chicken, pork or beef
1 medium yellow onion, washed, ends removed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, root ends removed, finely chopped
6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed to remove dirt, thin sliced
2 carrots, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into rounds
2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, sliced into florets
4 cups kale leaves, washed, stems removed or spinach leaves, washed, roughly chopped
2 cups stock, chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian, preferably home made
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 pound of Asian noodles
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter (optional)

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Bring to a boil. Unlike Italian pasta, Asian noodles do not require adding salt or oil to the water. Wait to add the noodles until the braise is finished because the drained noodles will congeal quickly.

In a large saucepan or chefs pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic and shiitake mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned.  If using uncooked chicken or meat, add now and cook until lightly browned.

Add the broccoli and kale and sauté until wilted. If using cooked chicken or meat, add along with the carrots and stock. Simmer 10 minutes until the carrots are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt, pepper and (optional) the sweet butter. Reduce liquid to half by cooking another 5 minutes. Lower the flame.

Add the noodles to the boiling water and stir well using tongs or chop sticks to separate the noodles. Read directions for cooking time. Before draining, taste a noodle and confirm doneness. Drain.

Add the noodles to the braise and toss well to coat with the sauce.

Serve hot in bowls with chop sticks or on plates with forks and large spoons.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bulk Up and Trim Down for the 4th of July: Brown Sugar Ribs and Open Faced Cheese sandwiches

For 4th of July there's always a tug of war in our house. Do we go traditional and make ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled corn on the cob, cole slaw, potato salad and apple pie? Or, should we keep an eye on calories as we watch the fireworks, serving fresh fruit, salads and lighter fare?

In the spirit of liberty and freedom, why not do both? That means brown sugar ribs, deliciously fatty, sweet and salty and open faced melted cheese sandwiches with shrimp for a lighter but no less finger-licking-food entree with  tossed arugula and homemade crouton salad and end of the season sautéed asparagus for greens.

And, because the farmers market is filled with delicious berries and fruit, for dessert have a fresh fruit salad with blue berries, freshly picked strawberries, ripe yellow peaches and dark purple pluots.

The good news, none of these dishes take much time to prepare and they all work beautifully in the backyard or packed in a picnic basket.

Open Faced Cheese Sandwiches with Grilled Shrimp

Serves 4
Ingredients:

2 large slices of white or whole wheat French bread or 4 smaller slices of bread/person
16 medium, raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, washed and pat dried
1/2 pound white cheese (Comte, cheddar or Monterey Jack), thin sliced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon mustard (deli, dijon or brown) (optional)
Sesame seeds, roasted (optional)
2 tablespoons scallions, white and yellow parts, thin sliced (optional)

Directions:

Heat a bbq grill. Toss the shrimp in the olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Grill evenly one minute on both sides to get light charring. Remove.

Lightly toast the bread. I prefer thin slices so the cheese and shrimp predominate. Line up the slices and prepare them assembly line style. If you like mustard, spread a thin layer on the bottom of each toast, topped with 2-4 shrimp, depending on the size of the slice.

Lay thin sheets of cheese over the shrimp and for added flavor sprinkle sesame seeds and/or scallions on top.

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350 F degrees. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil or a silpat sheet on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Place the open-faced sandwiches on top. Place into the oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted.

For a beautiful crusty finish, raise the temperature of the oven to broil and cook until the cheese lightly bubbles and browns. Be careful not to burn.

Remove from the oven and serve.  If transporting to a picnic, let cool on a wire rack, pack in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper between layers. Do not refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

Variations:

Instead of mustard use remoulade sauce or mayonnaise

Dust the shrimp with cayenne for added heat

After the shrimp are grilled, toss with 1 tablespoon finely chopped mango chutney

Brown Sugar Pork Ribs


The cooked ribs can be kept in the refrigerator covered 2-3 days or frozen in an air-tight freezer bag.

Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

1 3-pound rack, pork ribs, washed, pat dried
2-3 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Olive oil
Black pepper
6 ounces Italian tomato paste
1 small yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped

Directions

Trim excess fat, the membrane, and flap from the ribs. Caprial Pence the owner-chef of Caprial's Bistro in Portland, Oregon shows how to prep the ribs with easy-to-follow photographs. Reserve the flap, trimmed of its membrane, to grill for tacos.

Spread a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter 5” larger than the rack. Dust the meat side of the ribs with the cumin.

Mix together the brown sugar, cayenne and kosher salt. Spread half the dry mix on the plastic wrap. Lay the ribs on top, then spread the remainder of the dry mix to cover. Place a second piece of plastic wrap over the ribs, seal, fold in half and place into a Ziploc or plastic bag. Place in a pan overnight in the refrigerator.

In the morning remove the ribs. The dry mix will have transformed into a slurry. Very alchemical! 

In a sauce pan sauté the onions and garlic with olive oil until lightly browned, season with pepper. Remove the ribs from the plastic bag. Capture the liquid from the plastic bag and transfer to the sauce pan. Add the tomato paste and simmer the sauce on a low flame for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavor as necessary.

Line a large baking tray with tin foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking tray and lay the ribs on the rack. The ribs can either be cooked in a 350 degree oven or on the “cold” side of a covered grill with the heat on high.

Whether on the grill or in the oven, cook the ribs 30 minutes, turn them over, cook another 30 minutes and turn over again. If the ribs are tender, then baste the ribs with the sauce and cook another 30 minutes on each side or until the meat is tender. 

Remove from the oven, cut apart the individual ribs, and serve.




Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turkey Isn't Just for Thanksgiving: Turkey Stew with Dumplings

Usually on Thanksgiving between 20-25 people come over for dinner. Serving turkey is part of the holiday tradition but there's a practical side as well: one turkey serves a lot of people.

Turkey is a food so rooted in a holiday--think egg nog and New Year's Eve--that most people wouldn't think of using it at other times of the year.

Roast turkey in the summer is a practical solution to serving large amounts of food for backyard parties without an excessive amount of work.

Sweet, moist breast meat, perfect of sandwiches, can also be tossed in salads. Thigh meat is also good in sandwiches with a bit of mayonnaise, thin slices of red onion and arugula leaves. Or, teasing flavor out of the legs and thighs by boiling them in a large pot of water creates delicious turkey stock and several pounds of meat ideal for salads, soups and stews.

Turkey Stew with Dumplings and Vegetables

Yield: 4-6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
4 cups cooked, shredded turkey dark meat
6 cups turkey stock (fat removed)
2 carrots (washed, peeled, ends removed, chopped into thick rounds)
2 sweet potatoes (cooked, skins removed, roughly chopped)
1 medium yellow onion (peeled, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1 ear of corn (kernels removed) or 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 celery stalk (washed, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, finely chopped)
1 small bunch spinach (washed thoroughly, stems removed)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a dutch oven or a frying pan with tall sides, sauté the carrots, garlic, celery, mushrooms, onions, corn, and parsley in olive oil until lightly browned. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the shredded turkey, cooked sweet potatoes, and turkey stock. Simmer. Drop in the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
To make the dumplings, mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons, make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with a salad and a baguette.

Variations

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or Italian parsley to the dumplings.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers to the dumplings.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bacon Braised Chicken

Braising is a perfect one-pot, cold weather cooking technique that doesn't take much effort. The resulting meat is fall-off the bone tender. Adding fresh vegetables and herbs completes the dish.

As the braise simmers, the kitchen fills with a warming sweetness, further helping to banish the cold.
Using bacon with it's smoky flavor and good fat content adds even more flavor to the succulent chicken.

For Zesterdaily, I wrote a recipe for Bacon Braised Chicken that is perfect any time of the year, but especially on those cold and damp days when nothing gets you warm.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Mini-Candy Bars Make the Best Holiday Gifts

IF YOU DON'T HAVE TIME TO MAKE THE CHOCOLATES, I'LL MAKE THEM FOR YOU

For the holidays I'm serving chocolate mini-candy bars at home and giving them as gifts. They're a lot of fun to make. They taste great and look so cool.
For everyone who doesn't have the time, I'm selling the mini-candy bars with almonds or hazelnuts and peanut butter chocolates. If you don't live in the LA area, I can mail them to you.  You can email me at davidjlatt@earthlink.net. You can customize your chocolates, making them exactly the way you like.


If you want to try your hand at being a chocolatier, I wrote an article for Zesterdaily with easy-to-follow directions.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Best Post-Thanksgiving Comfort Food: Turkey Dumpling Stew

Usually on Thanksgiving between 20-25 people come over for dinner. This year we had a smaller group. With 15, we had time to talk and there wasn't quite as much work getting the meal ready. Out of habit, though, we bought the same size turkey we always buy, a 25 pounder. So we assumed we'd have a lot of food left over, enough for several days of sandwiches.

When we looked in the refrigerator on Friday, we were surprised that we had very little cranberry sauce, almost no stuffing, and only enough white meat for a couple of sandwiches. But, happily, we did have a lot of dark meat and almost a gallon of turkey stock we'd made Thanksgiving night.

For our day after Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and I wanted a good comfort meal. Dumplings with anything is always great, but with richly flavored turkey stew, there's nothing more satisfying.

Turkey Stew with Dumplings and Vegetables

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

4 cups cooked, shredded turkey dark meat
6 cups turkey stock (fat removed)
2 carrots (washed, peeled, ends removed, chopped into thick rounds)
2 sweet potatoes (cooked, skins removed, roughly chopped)
1 medium yellow onion (peeled, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1 ear of corn (kernels removed) or 1 cup of canned or frozen corn
1 celery stalk (washed, ends removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms (washed, thinly sliced)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (leaves only, finely chopped)
1 small bunch spinach (washed thoroughly, stems removed)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 - 3/4 cup half and half
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

In a dutch oven or a frying pan with tall sides, sauté the carrots, garlic, celery, mushrooms, onions, corn, and parsley in olive oil until lightly browned. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the shredded turkey, cooked sweet potatoes, and turkey stock. Simmer. Drop in the spinach and cook for 10 minutes or until the spinach has wilted. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

To make the dumplings, mix together the flour, baking soda, sugar, season with sea salt and pepper in a bowl. Finely chop the butter, add to the flour and mix well. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until the batter has a thick consistency. Using 2 spoons, make dumplings and ease them them into the hot liquid.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with a salad and a baguette.

Variations

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or Italian parsley to the dumplings.

Add 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers to the dumplings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Corn Soup for the End of Summer and Start of Fall

This is my second corn recipe in as many posts. Knowing that corn is about to go out of season makes me want it all the more. 
The recipe for corn soup I wrote for Zester Daily has been picked up by Yahoo's food site, Shine. I'm very happy the word is getting out about a soup I think is easy to make and delicious. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

For an Armenian Feast, Try Adana Restaurant in Glendale

One of my favorite restaurants isn't close to where we live.
Adana is forty-five minutes away in Glendale.
The light and airy dining room suggests a banquet hall in an elegant European boutique hotel. There are white tablecloths on all the tables, pastel landscape murals on the walls and delicate wrought iron framing the windows facing busy San Fernando Road. 
I would enjoy the food at Adana at any price, but with large entrees costing from $10.50 to $17.95, there's a special pleasure in being served an affordable, well-prepared meal. 
Even though there are 15 kababs on the menu, I mostly stick with the dark meat chicken kabob, the lamb chops and baby back ribs. A friend who joins me on the trek likes the lamb chops kabob. They are all delicious.
Waiting for our entrees, we have an Armenian coffee, share a large plate of tabouli and catch up about family, work and movies.
Serge, the waiter, or Edward Khechemyan, the owner and chef, brings a basket of lavash or pita (I prefer lavash) and a dish of sweet butter.
We eat the tabouli and lavash with relish. The freshly chopped Italian parsley, tossed with bits of tomato, scallions, olive oil and lemon juice, has a touch of heat. We talk as we eat and sip the strong coffee.
Armenia is sandwiched between Turkey and countries previously aligned with the Soviet Union. Their national dishes borrow from neighboring cuisines, with the strongest influence coming from the Middle East.
The dishes arrive beautifully platted.  The pieces of deboned chicken meat are lined up like pillows resting on a bed of rice. My buddy's lamb chops come with the same generous helping of rice as my grilled chicken. The lamb doesn't look like a kabob. The fat chops give off a fragrant, aromatic sweetness that is intoxicating.
We had both selected the same side dishes: homemade hummus and a brightly colored Persian salad of roughly chopped ripe tomatoes, red onions, Italian parsley and unpeeled Iranian cucumbers.
My friend attacks the lamb chops. Holding the bare bone in his hand, he alternates bites of succulent, sweet meat with fork fulls of rice flavored with scoops of humus and the tomato-cucumber salad.
I eat with more deliberation, savoring each bite by spreading butter and hummus on a piece of lavash, adding a spoonfull of rice, Persian salad and slices of the moist, dark chicken meat to create a bite sized packet of aromatic flavors and complimentary textures. I construct the next packet—and the next—until I have eaten every last piece of chicken and grain of rice.
Working in a closet-sized kitchen, Khechemyan could cut corners but won't. Even though the prices are little more than you would pay at a fast food restaurant, the food is prepared-to-order using the freshest ingredients. He insists on working with quality food and the proof is in each bite. Khechemyan and his fellow chef, Sonik Nazaryan, are masters of layering flavors.
For a small restaurant, the menu has a good variety of dishes, including familiar American classics, including Philly cheese steak sandwiches, hamburgers and chicken breast sandwiches to name a few. Adana also offers many salads, thick, spicy lentil and barley soups and traditional Armenian stews. Finally, there are many popular Middle Eastern appetizers such as domeh, hummus, yogurt and cucumber dip. 
The combination of textues and flavors is such a pleasure. Any foodie in search of umami has to make the trek to Adana. That's what's at work here. All your taste buds are in play—salty, sour, sweet and bitter. 


My friend and I finish our meal with a second cup of Armenian coffee. We are completely satisfied and happy. Even though Adana is far from home, I go back as often as I can. It's that good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spicy Sweet Ginger-Garlic Chicken Wings

Being creative in cooking sometimes means breaking the rules or borrowing a sauce from a traditional dish and using it in a non-traditional way.
When a diner is served the popular Vietnamese soup called pho, a basket of fresh green vegetables and bean sprouts accompanies a giant soup bowl filled to the brim with meat and noodles. For seasoning, a dipping sauce is also provided.
In a flash of inspiration, I realized the dipping sauce would make a delicious marinade for chicken. For Zesterdaily I wrote a recipe for Pho Buffalo Wings that gives the tender wings a beautiful glaze, flavored with ginger-heat and sweetness.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lots of Veggies and a Little Meat

I like meat. Give me a thick ribeye steak with sauteed onions and roasted fingerling potatoes, a simple arugula salad with a reduced balsamic vinaigrette and I'm a happy camper.

Even when I crave a big plate of veggies, I still want some meat. A bit of sausage and chicken on the bone adds flavor and some comfort-food "stickiness" that is oh so very satisfying.

Sauteed vegetables, added to a braise of chicken thighs, wings or legs, is an easy to make meal that's totally satisfying. Some Italian sausage or something spicier like chorizo is frosting on the cake, as it were.

Get some help cleaning and peeling the veggies and it's 30-45 minutes start to finish.

Sauteed Vegetables and Chicken on the Bone

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

8 chicken wings, washed
4 chicken thighs, washed
4 chicken legs, washed
4 carrots, washed, trimmed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, peeled, washed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed
1 medium sized broccoli crown, washed, end trimmed, stem peeled and julienned, florets quartered
2 Italian sausages, washed, grilled or roasted
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

Use two pans. In one put a tablespoon of olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Season the chicken with sea salt and pepper. Saute until lightly browned, turning frequently. Add 3 cups water and raise the flame to high. Lightly cover with a piece of aluminum foil but do not seal.

Cook for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the liquid. If need be, add water, a 1/4 cup at a time.

At the same time, get the veggies going in the second pan. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Add the veggies and saute for 10 minutes.

The braising liquid should be greatly reduced to about 1 cup. The chicken should be close to falling off the bone.  If not, cook another 5-10 minutes.

Using a silicone spatula, transfer the veggies and their liquid into the pan with the chicken. Add 3 cups of water for a second braise. Stir well.

Reduce the flame to medium. Lightly cover with a piece of aluminum foil and, again, do not seal.  Simmer 10 minutes, checking the broccoli and carrots, making sure they don't over cook.

Serve in large soup bowls because there will be sauce.

Variations

Add 1 tablespoon sweet butter to the second braise.

Omit the sausage.

Substitute chorizo or another sausage for the Italian sausage.

Substitute 3 pieces finely chopped bacon instead of the sausage.

Add 1/2 pound cooked pasta to the second braise.

Add 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the veggie saute for heat.

Add 3 cups washed, roughly chopped spinach to the second braise.

Add 6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, finely sliced to the veggie saute.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nice and Easy Spaghetti and Shrimp

A friend who is a good cook complains, "I'm too busy to cook. I get home from work and tell my family let's go out or order in."

Personally I feel the same way. I'm very happy when I open the refrigerator and see take out containers filled with Vietnamese lemon grass chicken, broken rice and bbq pork chops with pickled cabbage.

But sooner or later I hunger for a home cooked meal. I crave freshly prepared comfort food. Most of the time I don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so I want an easy to make meal. Salads are easy to make, but so are pastas.

At our farmers market, one of the vendors has a good supply of fish. Just recently he started carrying shelled, deveined shrimp, big fat ones. I bought a couple of pounds for an easy to make Sunday dinner. Sauteed and tossed with pasta, they are delicious.

Spaghetti and Shrimp

To build out the flavors, other ingredients can be added to this easy to make dish. Check out the variations below.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound shrimp, washed, shelled and deveined
1 pound spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
2 tablespoons yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, finely chopped
3 tablespoon sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup pasta water
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Instructions

To help with timing the dish, make the pasta first.

Bring a gallon of water to boil in a large stock pot. Add kosher salt and pasta. Every five minutes use tongs to stir the pasta to keep it separated. Place a strainer in the sink along with a heat-proof cup to capture 1 cup of pasta water. In ten minutes or until the pasta is al dente (firm to the bite), strain the pasta and reserve the cup of pasta water.

Return the pasta to the still hot pot. Add 1 tablespoon sweet butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil, season with 1/4 teaspoon each, freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Stir well with tongs. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pot to help the pasta retain heat.

Leave the shrimp whole or cut into bite sized pieces. In a large chefs pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute the shrimp until lightly pink. Remove the cooked shrimp from the pan. Add the garlic, onion and parsley and saute over a medium flame until lightly browned. Stir well to prevent burning. Add 2 tablespoons sweet butter, 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/2 cup pasta water.

Simmer, reduce and taste. Add sea salt and pepper if needed.

Add the cooked pasta and shrimp. Stir well to coat with the sauce. Add small amounts of pasta water if more liquid is needed.  Toss well and serve with grated Parmesan.

Variations

Add 1/4 cup home made roasted tomato sauce to the saute.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs on the pasta before adding the grated cheese.

Toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons finely chopped, crisp bacon.

Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes for heat.

Saute 4 shiitake mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced with the garlic, onions and parsley.

Saute 1 cup corn kernels with the garlic, onions and parsley.

Instead of shrimp, use lobster or scallops.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Grab a Bucket! Blueberries are in Season Again

We just received an email from Santa Barbara Blueberries, a farm a few miles north of Santa Barbara on I-5. The farm will open their doors (gates?) to u-pickers on May 28th. If you sign up on the web site, you can come a week earlier on May 21st. 

On a trip up north last year, we discovered what locals have known for years: stopping to pick your own blueberries is one of the best features of the area.

When I was growing up, my mom’s favorite thing to do when we hit the road was to stop at the roadside stands and buy fruit and vegetables from the local farmers.  What she dearly loved was when we could actually stop at the farm and do the picking ourselves.

One of her favorite places to visit was Cherry Valley, east of Los Angeles, where she would find an orchard that would let us kids climb up the ladders, buckets in hand, and pick and eat as many cherries as we could handle.



Heading up north I remembered those experiences when I saw the signs for Restoration Oaks Ranch's Santa Barbara Blueberry Farm, with its U-Pick option.

Thirty minutes north of Santa Barbara and three miles south of Buellton (home of Anderson's Pea Soup), from May to early August, keep a lookout on the east side of the highway.  There are signs on both sides of the highway but the turn off comes quickly, so be alert, especially on the southbound side where the exit is from the left lane.

Protected from birds by a high wall of netting, the farm grows several varieties of blueberries: Bluecrisp, Emerald, Jewel, Star, Misty, and Sharpblue.  The plants grow in long rows, stretching from the highway back into the hills.

Blueberries grow on low bushes, the fruit gathering in tight clusters on the branch ends.

Walking up and down the rows we passed couples feeding each other berries as if they were on a romantic date.  Then there were the families with kids, who rushed from plant to plant, picking and eating berries, yelling out, "I found the best ones."

For our part, my wife and I approached the task with determination. Mostly that meant picking berry by berry, but when we found a perfectly formed cluster, a quick sweep of the branch yielded a handful of berries that clattered satisfyingly into the bucket.

Harvesting blueberries is sweet work. You pick a few and eat a lot as you walk down the rows. We enjoyed them all the more knowing blueberries are healthy and nutritious.

The best berries are plump, firm, and colored a dark shade of blue. Ripe berries are on the top of the plant but also down below, so it's worth the effort to crouch down and check the lower branches.

In addition to all those nice plump, ripe berries, you'll also see ones that are slightly wrinkled.  We had a difference of opinion about those.

My wife didn't care for them, but I did because they have a thick, jammy taste, reminding me of homemade blueberry pie. Because my wife didn't want any wrinkled berries in our bucket, I ate them as I picked.

My wife wandered off in one direction.  I, in another. We walked up and down the rows, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the easy quiet of the rolling hills surrounding the farm.

Walking down the rows, I couldn't get over that there were so many berries!  How could I pass by ripe, perfectly formed blueberries, sweet and luscious and not pick every one in sight?

With a quick grab, I could fill my mouth with great tasting blueberries.  So delicious, so available.

With blueberry stained fingers, I placed yet another handful of berries in my mouth when my wife called out to me.  Actually she called several times before I heard her.  "David," she said, "Come on, you've had enough."

I nodded in agreement but managed to run my hand along another branch and enjoyed a last mouthful of berries before I re-joined her. With our buckets filled, we walked hand-in-hand down the dirt road, stopping at the outdoor sink to wash the blueberry stains off our hands, and then to the shack where we paid for our blueberries.

In 30 minutes my wife and I had filled our buckets.  At $15.00 a bucket (about 2 quarts), the blueberries are a bargain, considering that at farmers' markets small containers cost $3.00-4.00.

At our friends' house that night, we proudly served the berries as the crowning topping to a pineapple-strawberry fruit salad.  The combination was perfection.  Each fruit had a different tartness and sweetness.  Their flavors melded beautifully.

With a large bowl in the refrigerator, everyone in the house made frequent stops to grab a handful.  In no time at all, we had eaten all the blueberries.

With a short growing season and given that it was unlikely we would drive up 101 anytime soon, when we headed back to LA, we left early so we could stop at the blueberry ranch and pick another bucket.

Back home I remembered all those ears of corn, peaches, and cherries, I used to pick with my mom and sister and I was very happy to have a bucket of blueberries in the refrigerator.  What a great way to start the week with a breakfast of fresh blueberries, yogurt, and cereal.

We also decided that blueberries and chocolate would go well together. I added 2 cups of blueberries to a Banana Chocolate-Chip Walnut cake recipe, a favorite of my wife. The combination, indeed, is delicious.