Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mad Dills

Memorial Day weekend is a fantastic occasion for a number of reasons. Aside from the fact that it is an important time to honor and give thanks to all of our servicewomen and men for risking their lives (and don't you forget it -- beer comes second to this), it also serves as the start of grilling season.

Grillers, light your coals.

MDW is a culinary smorgasbord of crispy charred meats dripping with cheese. There are few things more inherently satisfying than a charbroiled burger with a fat slice of cheddar oozing over the sides. Lord have mercy.

Obviously all the classic grilled meats will come into play this weekend, but we would be loath to ignore the side dish on a weekend like this.

Sadly, hotdogs and hamburgers are the perennial stars and side dishes become congealed mayonnaisey afterthoughts, typically picked up at your neighborhood Jewel-Osco.

Let's change that this year. Let's say yes to cornbread, yes to bright and briny bean salads, yes to properly constructed slaws!

Preach, LL

I typically hate slaws -- more often than not they are overly sweet, drowning in mayo and hopelessly limp even before they've sat under the blazing sun for a few hours. The thing is, a good slaw is an excellent counterpoint to a hunk of grilled meat. Creamy, crunchy and tangy, meet greasy, chewy and juicy. Truly, a match made in heaven and a relationship that has lasted longer than 100% of Bachelor(ette) marriages.

This is a recipe for a beautifully simple and deliriously easy dill slaw. It doesn't have any white sugar or weird ingredients in it, and it'll go even faster if you get a bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrots. Feel free to adjust the levels of seasoning, but remember that a slaw should be fairly mild so it doesn't overpower the main players.

Ingredients:
1 medium head green cabbage, shredded
1 c. shredded carrot
1 c. shredded radicchio (optional -- if added, increase mayo as needed)
3/4 c. mayonnaise
1 tbs. white vinegar
2 tbs. fresh dill, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine mayo, vinegar, dill and black pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage and carrots until evenly incorporated. Fold in dill mayo and mix until well coated.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Puff Daddy

In my very educated opinion, no breakfast is complete without an egg. Be they scrambled, poached (in the dead of night, natch), sunny-side up or in an omelette, the egg is king of the breakfast castle.

Americans are all about the egg as part of a balanced breakfast but my Spanish school kids look at me like I'm loca when I say I had an egg on toast before coming to school.

What Spaniards have embraced, by contrast, is egg for every OTHER meal of the day, typically by way of tortilla española: an egg casserole filled with thinly sliced potatoes and, maybe, a little onion. Tortilla by itself is great but as far as I'm concerned, 90% of foods could seriously benefit from some cheese. Also, it's kind of a lot of work to make what with the slicing of the potatoes etc. etc. etc.

Therefore, I present to you a staple of the Suss family brunch, served year-round (except Passover). It's cheesy and full of saturated fat and a little spicy too. Best of all, it takes exactly 5 minutes to put together. Not to mention it refrigerates perfectly and reheats like magic. Serve it for any get-together, make it on a Sunday for easy weekday breakfasts or eat it for dinner with a simple green salad (aren't you classy!). Now without further ado...chili cheese egg puff.

Ingredients:

5 eggs
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. cottage cheese
2 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/4 c. melted butter
1 tsp. crushed reds (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x8 baking dish.

2. In a large bowl, beat eggs well. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is brown and puffy and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Clam Walks Into a Bar...

...and announces, "I've just won the Powerball! 10.5 million, I can't believe it!"

Everyone crowds around him, offering congratulations and pats on the shell when the bartender suggests he buy a round for the house. The clam looks scandalized and swiftly exits the bar.

"Well," says a nearby mussel. "I guess he was a little shellfish."

BA-DUM KSH!

Boy am I funny.

I am also a self-proclaimed shellfish addict. Totally hopeless. I know it's treyf but I figure if God really didn't want his chosen people eating it then moules marinières wouldn't taste so good.

One of my favorite ways to eat seafood (besides all the ways) is in pasta. There are very few things that cannot be improved by spaghetti, and seafood is definitely not one of them. This recipe came about as a challenge from Tommy -- now that we're down to our final months in Spain, (holyshitholyshitholyshit) we need to take advantage of all the things we won't be able to enjoy once we're home. One of those things is disgustingly fresh seafood.

Therefore, we descended into the depths of the fish market at the mercado and scooped up a boatload (heh) of clams, mussels and shrimp. Initially I was really intimidated by the prospect of cooking shellfish having never done it before but some Internet research revealed that it really isn't difficult at all.

All you need to know is this: if it doesn't open while you cook, throw it out. If it's already open before you cook it, throw it out. Because our stupid stove is the size of a Barbie kitchenette, I had a lot of difficulty getting the mussels to cook evenly. The burners simply weren't big enough to effectively distribute the heat. Thusly, I had to throw almost half of the mussels away because they just wouldn't open all the way. I am 90% sure they were fine to eat but in this case better safe than sorry is the name of the game.

As far as mussels go, pick ones that don't have any cracks in the shell and that are tightly closed. If a mussel opens after you remove the beard (the little cluster of thread-like fibers at the bottom of the shell), give it a sharp tap on the counter. If it closes right away, it's fine. If not, say bye.

Clams just need to be rinsed and soaked in cold water about 30 minutes before cooking. Otherwise, it's smooth sailing there.

Feel free to adjust the level of heat in the chili oil here. I personally like spice but it is truly up to you. You can also add other seafood like scallops or cockles or even chunks of a sturdy fish such as snapper if you so choose. This is a great recipe to feed a lot of people that looks really fancy but honestly isn't that much work. A sprinkle of fresh parsley and a shave or two of fresh parmesan is all you need to make it look like you graduated from Le Cordon Bleu. I won't tell if you don't.

Ingredients:

1 lb. spaghetti or angel hair pasta
1 lb. cherrystone clams
1/2 lb. mussels
1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (tail on is fine)
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 c. evoo
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c. dry white wine
1 c. seafood stock

For the seasoned oil:
1/2 c. very good olive oil
2 tsp. crushed reds or to taste
1/2 tsp. each dried basil, parsley and oregano
2 tsp. sea salt


1. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients for the oil together. Set aside.

2. In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add garlic and onion, cook over moderately high heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook for another 3 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, clean mussels by rinsing them well in cold water, scrubbing off any barnacles or attachments. Remove the beard with a sharp tug. Set aside with the rinsed clams and shrimp.

4. To the skillet, add the stock, cherry tomatoes and 2 tbs. of the oil mixture. Bring to a boil. Add the shrimp, mussels and clams and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are tightly curled and the shells are all open, about 5 minutes.

5. While the shellfish is cooking, make the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain well.

6. Transfer pasta to a large bowl and toss with the seafood, its sauce and 2 to 3 more tablespoons of the hot oil. Serve immediately with fresh parsley, parmesan and the rest of the oil for drizzling.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mixing It Up

Hi guys, sorry for the brief hiatus but Tommy and I decided to go to Switzerland for a long weekend. Yes, I know, I am living the dream. Also they really do know their chocolate and cheese out there.

Were it not for the fact that it is the most absurdly expensive place I've ever been, I would totally move there. Gorgeous scenery, amazing food and the cleanest bathrooms I've ever seen. Everywhere we went. Seriously. As those close to me can tell you, this is very important to me. In other news, after eating gruyere fondue in Gruyere (heh), The Melting Pot is totally ruined for me.

As fun as the weekend was, it was expensive and pretty darn heavy as far as culinary options go. We did manage to eat a ton of ethnic food however which made me incredibly happy. Thai, Indian and Ethiopian (Tommy's first time!) were all happily consumed. Especially the Ethiopian food. Those people know their way around a lentil, let me tell you.

Therefore, Tommy and I have wanted to keep things pretty light since we got home. Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, not quite as much chocolate (but really still kind of a lot...whatever). This is a whacked-out quasi-fruit salad that makes fantastic use of the wealth of citrus fruits we are blessed with out here, plus the overwhelming supply of olives. It sounds like a strange and even unappetizing combination but trust me, the sweet/sour/salty flavors play together in the nicest possible way.

Additionally, you don't have to cut the oranges into supremes (the fancy way to say peeled wedges) but it makes consumption easier and looks really pretty. Here's a good step-by-step tutorial if you're interested.

It's worth it to use good quality olive oil if you have it for this recipe. A bright, grassy flavor will play best with the citrus. If not, good old extra-virgin will do as well.


This is a great side dish and would pair well with most whitefish and maybe couscous. In fact, that sounds pretty damn good for dinner tonight. This also works best if it sits briefly (30 minutes, give or take) to let the flavors really meld. If you have culinarily adventurous friends, this would make an awesome potluck dish: you will look like a super inventive chef and you don't even have to tell them it only took 15 minutes to put together.

Ingredients:
4-5 oranges (mix of navel, blood, etc.), cut into supremes
1/2 c. pitted green olives, roughly chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/4 c. good-quality olive oil
2-3 tbs. fresh chives, finely minced

1. Carefully supreme your oranges, or alternatively, slice them into thin rounds.

2. Combine the oranges, green olives and red onion in a medium sized bowl and drizzle with the olive oil, mixing to combine.


3. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Add chives just before serving.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Game of Scones


What comes to mind when you think of the wildly popular HBO series Game of Thrones? Sex, darkness, blood and surprise top my list. Also blonde hair envy...damn. So what does any of that have to do with baking scones?

For my part, scones and I have a love-hate relationship. I love eating them, I hate making them. I always make a gigantic mess while rolling out the sticky dough, invariably spilling flour everywhere which forces my nails into the palms of my hands with surprising force--blood.

The darkness comes from the fact that scones should be baked blind: as in, leave that oven door shut. Opening and closing it over and over again to check the doneness of the scones changes the temperature inside and can reduce fluffiness.

Scones are not really a sexy food either. They're more of an old British grandma drinking tea with her ankles crossed prettily. These scones, however, combine tart lemon and sweet berries in a way that could only be described as food porn. Sex on a scone.

And finally surprise: when I take the first bite of a steaming hot scone fresh out of the oven, I'm instantly inspired to bake more, even though I know it makes me crazy.

These lemon berry scones use greek yogurt which makes them a little bit lighter than normal scones which use cream. That's not to say they're healthy in any way--they're not. But who cares? They're so good it really doesn't matter. And they're too much work to make with any sort of regularity. The trick to good scones is to not handle the dough very much. As with any flour-based baked good, the more you mess with it the worse it will be. Feel free to use blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in any combination for this recipe. There's no way it can be bad.

Ingredients:
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. lemon zest, finely grated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. turbinado (large-grain) brown sugar
Scant 6 tbs. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 c. greek yogurt
Milk for extra moisture (if necessary) and brushing.
1 heaping cup mixed berries

For the icing:
3/4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest

1. Preheat oven to 415F.  Line a flat baking pan with baking paper and set aside.

2. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and lemon zest to a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the butter and use your fingertips (or a food processor) to incorporate it into the flour until the butter is incorporated throughout the flour in the size of small peas (same as making pastry dough).

3. Gently stir in the berries and then add the yogurt. Fold through gently. Add a splash of milk if mixture is too dry.  Do not over-mix.

4. Form the mixture into a ball by kneading gently and place onto a flat, clean, lightly floured surface.  Pat into a round of around 2 inches thick. Slice into triangles and place onto the prepared baking pan, putting the triangles back into the round shape.
5. Brush the tops with extra milk and bake for around 20-25 minutes or until light golden brown on the top and cooked through.
6. While the scones are baking, combine all the ingredients for the icing and whisk hard until they are all incorporated and the glaze is smooth.
7. Transfer scones to a wire rack to cool.  Once completely cool, ice tops with lemon drizzle.

This recipe is originally from A Splash of Vanilla.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Jessica Does a Juice Cleanse

Did this title get your attention? It should, because if you know me even a little bit you know that
a. I do not subscribe to food trends (see: my aversion to anything advertising truffle butter)
b. I would never voluntarily give up food for an extended period of time, and
c. I think juice cleanses and, frequently, those who swear by them are dumb and need a shot of good ol' science.


What I meant when I said "juice cleanse" was actually "dinner with an entire bottle of wine in it." Tonight we're making coq au vin, fancy French for slow-braised chicken in red wine sauce. It requires some work but the results are truly fantastic and it freezes incredibly well. As far as the chicken itself goes, have your butcher cut it up for you. That's part of their job, so don't be afraid to ask. If you don't want to buy a whole chicken or aren't able to, use a mixture of BONE-IN, SKIN-ON breasts, thighs and drumsticks. Boneless, skinless mush will not cut it for this recipe.

I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for this (all hail the Queen) and aside from the fact that I didn't brown my chicken quite enough, it turned out fantastically well. Why is it important that I didn't brown my chicken enough? Because the skin was still very porous and soaked up all the wine and turned purple. Tommy said it looked like zombie meat. I was not amused. But it tasted good as hell so eventually he shut up and ate his dinner and was grateful to have such a lovely girlfriend who cooks beautiful meals.

A further note: when you cook with wine, use wine that you would also want to drink. If you think it tastes bad in a glass, you probably won't like it much better in a recipe. Apart from that, you're all ready to go. It's not a hard recipe but it does require about an hour of active prep and cook time so keep that in mind. Bon appetit!


Ingredients:
4 oz. good bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 or 4 lb.) chicken, cut in 8ths
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 lb. carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle good dry red wine, like Burgundy
1 c. chicken stock
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tbs. unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature
1 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour
1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
2 tbs. EVOO

1. Preaheat the oven to 250F.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.

3.Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.



4. Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

5. Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot. Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.



6. Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions.


7. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned. Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste. Serve hot.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Undercover Lovers

Here's the thing about most foods -- they are at least 46% tastier when dipped or coated in a sauce. That's a verifiable, scientific fact. Look it up. I'm an expert when it comes to sauces. From tangy-sweet balsamic glazes to blow-your-head off curry sauces to unrepentantly garlicky dips, I love a good dunk.

But sauces shouldn't be limited to the savory realm of foods. In fact, I would like to take it upon myself to help reinvent the sad state of the dessert sauce. I feel like every time I get a dessert in a restaurant it comes with some sad, jarred "caramel" sauce that tastes more like fake vanilla flavor than anything resembling true caramel or a pathetic swatch of raspberry jam that's been reduced with a splash of lemon juice. PUH-LEEZ (insert Liz Lemon eye-roll here).

This whole issue is part of a larger theme in the restaurant industry of laziness and boredom when it comes to the dessert menu, a topic I will touch upon at a later point in time.  But I am here to rectify, in a small part, that hideous trend of jarred pseudo-creativity.

And therefore I bring you a quick and easy dessert that combines a trio of nature's most compatible flavors, perfect for a quick snack or as an indulgent breakfast topping. Easy enough that you could make it right now, healthy enough that you won't feel bad about not sharing, tasty enough that you won't even think it's healthy: frozen banana slices nestled under a dark-chocolate peanut butter sauce.

I know this doesn't push the envelope all too much in terms of sensationally creative thinking but at least everything here is made from scratch. I highly recommend making your own peanut butter if you have a blender or a food processor; it's incredibly easy and, if you can buy nuts in bulk, far cheaper than store-bought.

Make sure you cover the baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper before freezing the banana slices or they will stick to the metal forever. Additionally, feel free to top the banana slices with your choice of add-ons: crushed nuts, shredded coconut, cacao nibs, carob bites -- the choice is wholly yours. Just make sure you freeze them through completely before eating. You can also use milk chocolate if you aren't vegan or skip the peanut butter if it's not your style.

With hot weather right around the corner, these are a fantastic alternative to calorie and preservative-laden ice cream treats. I won't tell Ben and Jerry if you don't tell Häagen and Dazs.

Ingredients:

2-3 ripe (but not mushy) bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1/2 c. smooth, unsalted peanut butter
8 oz.  bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3-4 tbs. your choice of toppings (see above)

1. Arrange the banana slices on a large baking sheet covered with waxed or parchment paper.

2. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat in a double-broiler until completely smooth. Alternatively you can melt it in 30-second intervals in the microwave, but watch it carefully so it doesn't burn.

3. Carefully whisk in the peanut butter until completely incorporated.

4. Using a fork or whatever kitchen implement you find easiest, (kebab skewer? toothpick?) dunk the banana slices into the chocolate mixture and coat evenly. Shake off any extra chocolate sauce.

5. Sprinkle banana slices with your choice of toppings and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.