Archives for April 2013

Thinking of Boston

Yesterday’s attacks on Boston weigh heavy on the hearts of all Americans.

Adam Roberts wrote a beautiful piece on how important it is to keep creating, keep thriving, keep beauty and love alive at times like these.

He is one hundred percent right.

But, just for today, I will take a day off blogging to go into the kitchen with my loved ones. I want to talk to them as I cream butter with sugar until it turns pale yellow. I want laugh with them as we fight over which tv show to watch as we cut chicken and peel potatoes.

I just want to be truly grateful for the people I love.

That’s how I can best return to normalcy.

All of my thoughts and my heart are with Boston.

Regular posting to resume tomorrow.

Greek Beef, Vegetable, and Couscous Skillet

When it gets warmer outside, I crave Greek food, all day every day.

I love the bright, fragrant flavors. I love how many vegetables it uses.

And I love any chance to eat my favorite medi-mexi dip, which is totally tasty with Greek food.

This dish a lot easier than moussaka with a lot of the same flavors. Just be sure that whatever meat you use is as lean as possible – you don’t to have to drain a whole bunch of grease. You will also note that I don’t use dill in this recipe – that’s because I serve it alongside a dip that is made with fresh dill, and I’m not a fan of dill overload.

I am, however, a fan of Greek overload.

Greek Beef, Vegetable, and Couscous Skillet

Ingredients:

3/4 pound lean ground meat (chicken, lean beef or pork, buffalo, etc.)

1 cup Israeli couscous, cooked

2 large or 4 small zucchini, diced

3 scallions, diced all the way up to the green part

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. dried mint

2 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

2 tomatoes, diced (or 1 small can crushed tomatoes, drained)

1/4 cup roasted bell peppers, chopped

4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

2 tbsp. olive oil

juice of half a large lemon

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until it is shimmering, then add the zucchini to the pot. It will sizzle quite a bit -that’s what you want. Leave the zucchini undisturbed in a single layer until the bottoms are browned (about 4 minutes) , then start moving the zucchini around to let all sides brown. Add the scallions.  2. Add the meat, the other spices, and the bell peppers. Cook until the meat is no longer pink, and then drain fat if necessary.

3. Towards the end of the process, add the tomatoes, lemon juice, and bell peppers. Cover the pan with a lid to let the tomatoes break down.

4. In about 5 minutes, the tomatoes should be soft and juicy. When they are, taste for seasoning.

5. Add the couscous…

and top with feta. Cover the pan with a lid and in a few minutes, the feta will have melted.

6. Serve with Medi-Mexi  dip and tomato cucumber salad.

This dish is just delicious. Yes, it falls apart when you serve it, but it looks great while whole in the pan! The taste is very fresh and bright from the lemon juice, savory form the meat, and faintly sweet from the cinnamon. The vegetables are  crunchy in some parts, soft in others, and the scallions provide a gentle onion-like flavor without overpowering the other ingredients. This is very satisfying, without being heavy, and when it is served with fresh salad and yogurt sauce, it really constitutes an entire meal.

Get ready, blog. This blog is gonna get real Greek this summer.

Maple Egg Grilled Cheese

It’s months like these that make me proud to be an American.

That’s because April is Grilled Cheese Month! Give me grilled cheese or give me death—that’s how the saying goes, right?

Well, Land O’Lakes has teamed up with Kitchen PLAY to celebrate grilled cheese.

Also, through the end of April, Land O’Lakes will donate $1 to Feeding America every time someone pins or repins a Land O’Lakes recipe on Pinterest. Just head to www.landolakes.com to find your favorite recipes, pin them, and start giving back.

And, with recipes like the one below, you are going to be pinning like crazy.

Grilled cheese is one of my favorite foods because there are so many ways to dress it up. It can be elegant or trashy and it is always just what I feel like. Even for breakfast.

You know, that time when grilled cheese isn’t usually served.

Keyword: usually.

The important things here are very thinly sliced cheese, so it melts evenly, and getting the fried egg right. Nothing is more disappointing than an overdone egg, and nothing is more delightful than a gooey egg yolk.

 

Except, perhaps, a gooey egg yolk atop a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

Maple and Egg Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients:

3 oz. Land O Lakes® Deli American Cheese

2 slices bacon, diced

2 slices sandwich bread

1 egg

1 tbsp. butter

1 dash chili seasoning (cayenne, pepper, salt, and garlic powder)

1 tsp. maple syrup

 

 1. Put the bacon in a dry, hot skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes, or until the bacon is very crispy. Take out of the pan and drain on a paper towel but keep the bacon grease in the pan and the pan hot.

2. Put both bread slices in the hot pan. After 1 minute, or when they are toasted, take one out of the skillet. Turn the other one and add the cheese.

 3. Top with the bacon.

4. Cover the whole thing with a lid, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 3 minutes, or until it the cheese is melted. When it is totally gooey, remove the cheesy bread and set it aside. Do NOT top with the other slice of bread.

5. Melt the butter in another skillet over medium heat…

6. And fry your egg. You want the whites JUST set and the yolk still runny.

 7. Put the egg onto the sandwich

8. Drizzle on the maple syrup and add the chili seasoning.

9. Now top with the other piece of bread, push down to puncture the yolk, and…

10. Serve.

This is everything breakfast should be— hearty, filled with healthy fats and protein, and just a little bit indulgent. Unlike traditional grilled cheese, which must be flipped, this can be made by somewhat clumsier chefs (my middle name isn’t exactly Grace). The egg, along with the cheese, acts as an adherent for both pieces of bread. The bacon is evenly distributed and the maple syrup adds a wonderful sweet taste to an otherwise savory meal. The crowning touch is, of course, the cheese. Tangy, soft, perfectly melted. It’s everything an ideal grilled cheese sandwich is.

So go pin this on Pinterest. And while you are at it, check out some of the other fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches participating in this program by clicking on the graphic below! Not only are you helping a good cause…you are gonna have a great breakfast tomorrow, too.

 *Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Land O’Lakes as part of the Kitchen Sidecar series. All opinions given are my own.

Simple Tomato Cucumber Salad

There are some recipes that are really so simple that they don’t require printing on a blog.

Or…do they?

After all, I grew up in the kitchen. My mom was always in the kitchen, teaching me how to separate eggs (with my hands), how to tell when a chicken is roasted (when the drumstick wiggles away), and how to combine flavors (dill and lemon – good. Dill and vanilla extract – bad.).

But a lot of people didn’t grow up cooking with their parents or grandparents. They didn’t go to culinary school and went straight from eating in the dorms to eating out. Now they might want to cook.

So this recipe is for them. It might seem simple to you – it does to me. But at a recent dinner where I served it, a friend was so delighted that it occurred to me that some people might not know to make this simple, satisfying recipe. So, here goes.

Cucumber-Tomato Salad

Ingredients:

2 tomatoes, diced very finely

1/4 red or sweet onoin, diced very finely

1/2 large cucmber or 1 small cucumber, diced v ery finely

juice of 1/2 lemon

tsp. of salt

2 tsp. olive oil

1. Combine all ingredients. Then, let marinate for 30 minutes, taste for seasonings, and serve.

That’s it. This is best in the summer, when the tomatoes are juicy and the onions are sweet. However, it’s even good in the early spring, like now. Just make sure that the dice on all the veggies is very fine – that really makes this salad refreshing and easy to eat. This is just the jumping off point – add some dill and oregano to make it Mediterranean. Add za’atar to give it a middle eastern feel. Cilantro and half a clove of smashed garlic for a Mexican feel and some herbs de Provence give it a decidedly French flavor. Go with your instincts and with flavors and herbs that you like. The point is that this is a chameleon salad. It is fabulous as a relish for burgers or as a side to  a heavy meal. It is simple, but it totally makes a meal come together.

And if you are someone who is a beginner in the kitchen, maybe this is just the recipe you needed to show you that cooking can be simple, intuitive, and most of all, enjoyable.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches

It feels like Spring here on the East Coast – finally!

It’s time for vegetables to step into the sandwich limelight.

.Sure, veggies are often seen as supporting players in a sandwich’s cast, but they can be so much more. Here, a portobello mushroom takes center stage and the turkey is in the chorus.

It’s okay, turkey…a strong ensemble is necessary to help the star shine.

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches

Ingredients:

2 slices peasant bread

1 large portabello mushroom, cleaned and de-stemmed

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Sandwich ingredients of your choosing, included but not limited to:

1 slice turkey

2 tsp. horseradish mustard

1 plum tomato, sliced

2 oz. fontina cheese

1 handful washed arugula

1/4 avocado, sliced

1. Heat oil in a pan over high heat until it shimmers. Then, put the mushroom in.

2. Cover the mushroom with a plate and top with a large can to weigh it down. This is an all important step, as it flattens the mushroom and makes it crispy on all outer surfaces.

3. After about 4 minutes, flip the mushroom and repeat the process.

4. After it cooks for 2 minutes on the other side, or the mushroom is tender when a knife is stuck into its center, add the balsamic vinegar. Turn the mushroom to coat it in the vinegar and oil mixture. Then, remove the mushroom to a plate and salt and pepper it generously.

5. Build your sandwich, putting the mushroom smack in the middle of the whole deal.

6. Enjoy.

Don’t you wish you made mushrooms the star more often? This portobello is smooth and juicy, with a meaty, umami flavor that is only bolstered by its sticky balsamic glaze. The turkey makes the mushroom seem even earthier and more substantial than it already is. The cheese gently softens under the warmth of the mushroom, and the horseradish brings that nasal-clearing heat. A few greens, a fresh tomato…what more could you want in a sandwich?

Bravo, humble vegetable. You went in there a kid, but you came back a star.

Tony’s di Napoli -You Know What You’re Getting

There is a time for fine dining and a time for fast food. And then, there is a time for a huge gathering of friends, where everyone is hungry and no one wants to spend a lot of money. But you all still want to sit and have a glass of wine. That’s the time for casual, big format dining.

Tony’s di Napoli is the ind of place you have seen before. It’s a huge, cavernous restaurant with frescoes of Tuscany and servers carrying huge platters of veal picatta and jugs of red wine. It’s generic Italian-American food – nothing offensive, nothing innovative. You know what will be on the menu and you know what it should taste like. From the moment that a basket of warm, doughy sourdough bread plops down at your table, you know exactly what to expect.

Heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad

I admit, ordering this was my fault. Why would I order heirloom tomatoes this early in the year and why would I order them here? Of course they were mealy and tasteless. That isn’t even the restaurant’s fault, that’s mine – I fell for the “special salad of the day” pitch. The upside is that the rest of this salad was really tasty. The mozzarella was creamy and soft and the croutons were large and crunchy, soaking up the very delicious garlicky vinaigrette. The basil strewn about the plate was fresh and plentiful, and I could see that if this was just made with some of the arugula decorating the bottom of the plate how it could be really tasty.

Rigatoni with vodka sauce, mushrooms, and sausage

Surprisingly excellent! The rigatoni is well cooked, so it is al dente and has a nice chew to it. The vodka sauce is not only creamy but surprisingly bright with tomato and a little spicy with red pepper flakes. The mushrooms are juicy and the sausage is a salty, meaty addition to the dish. That isn’t to say it’s a salt bomb, because it isn’t. The pasta is surprisingly well seasoned and layered with flavor. This is by no means light, but it is very satisfying.

Chicken Parmesan

Doesn’t look too appetizing, right? It looks kinda like it tastes – not bad, not great. Kinda sloppy. Muted, mushy flavors. Lots of canned tomato flavor with not enough salt or herbs to balance it out. Stretchy mozzarella but not enough – if any – nutty, salty Parmesan  Tender chicken with soggy breading. It’s okay. It’s fine, especially with some pasta (that must be ordered separately . It’s not the best, nor the worst in the city. 

That’s what Tony’s di Napoli is, in a nutshell. Not the best, not the worst. The prices, especially for being in the middle of Times Square, are very fair for the portion size. Some of the food is really pretty good. But most of it is meh. It’s really best for when you need a quick dinner for a large group of people.

After all, like I mentioned earlier, there is a time for that. 

Cel-Ray Soda and Other Obesssions

I live to eat, not the other way around. 

If you are like me, you might want to stick around for this blog post. It profiles some of the tastiest treats I have eaten of late – just a few camera snapshots here and there of some of my latest faves in the city.

Cel-Ray soda

Okay, this isn’t exactly a restaurant dish but it is my latest obsession. How have I lived this long as an East Coast Jewish gal and not tried this stuff? It’s bright and refreshing, a little sweet and a little grassy. I could never pinpoint that this was celery if I didn’t know that it was ahead of time, but once you know that it is, that vegetal celery taste totally rings clear. If you likes 7-Up but find Sprite too sweet, you will absolutely love Cel-Ray. It was the ideal companion to my Katz’s Reuben sandwich, but it would also be at home with a slice of pizza or anything else that needs a light, clean taste to cut through its spicy, greasy layers.

Serrano ham sandwich at Vintner Wine Market

One of my favorite little haunts in Hell’s Kitchen. The cheese and meat shop is as fine as any you might see downtown, but without the pretentious staff or long lines. Looking for a stinky cheese? They have it. Artisanal pickles? Got those, too. Or you can have one of the many delicious and unique beers that they offer. Stay at one of the high tables in the back or take your sandwich to go. The sandwiches are all exceptional, but the Serrano ham is my favorite. The ham is shaved to order on an old fashioned slicer, soft and juicy so that it melts on the tongue. It is layered with sharp manchego cheese, slices of tomato  and a drizzle of fruity Spanish olive oil. Served on a crusty Tom Cat baguette and served with a few briny olives, this sandwich is huge and extremely high quality. For $10, it will keep you full for hours and may ruin you for all other sandwiches. 

Seared salmon with lentils at Sel et Gras

This small restaurant in the West Village serves a very nice happy hour (including $6 glasses of sparkling wine) and has a cozy, convivial atmosphere  but those aren’t what really stand out. What really stands out is the plain old salmon  We have all had seared salmon a million times, and it can be – at its worst – smelly, rubbery, and totally gross. This, however, is seared salmon at its best. Flaky on the outside and a soft medium rare within. The skin is crispy and salty and the meat itself is moist and very mild. The lentils are toothsome and earthy, served in a creamy vinaigrette. This salmon is what all salmon dishes should aspire to become.

Not gonna lie, it could only be improved upon by a side of ice cold Cel-Ray. 

Sel et Gras on Urbanspoon

BurgerFi – Go for the Burgers, Stay for the Custard

Let’s talk burgers.

You know, for a change.

BurgerFi is an UES burger restaurant that – might as well make the comparison here – looks a whole lot like Shake Shack. Antibiotic free beef, frozen custard, and made to order gourmet dogs and burgers. Pair those characteristics with a fast service restaurant concept and its hard to tell the two apart. How, you ask, does the food compare?

Texas Chili Dog

One of my dining companions said that this tasted like 7-11 chili. I would equate it more to Der Wienerschniztel chili, but either way, there you have it. It’s thin, salty, and just slightly zesty with cumin and a bit of cayenne. It’s basically perfect. Slathered over a charred hot dog with gooey cheese sauce and a fluffy bun, it’s really tasty stuff. Nothing out of this world, but very satisfying. 

The BAD (breakfast all day) burger, with bacon, cheese, hash browns, and an egg, all drizzled in maple syrup

This burger, which both of my friends got, is really pretty great. The egg is nicely gooey, the bacon is crispy, and the hash browns are…well, they are fried potatoes and onions. How bad could they be, right? The maple syrup adds a really interesting sweet touch – why weren’t people doing this before?! The only downside, for me, was the beef itself. A little thin and served only well done or medium well, they lack seasoning and char. A sad story, since the rest of the burger is so tasty.

Fries

I only had the fries, but damn were they good. Crispy, salty, and fresh cut. These are fries you pay $7 an order for in a fancy gastropub, which make them a really great deal here. Swipe them in some mayo and you will be in heaven.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Concrete

Sorry, Shake Shack. This is where you lose. The custard here is far superior. The concrete here is thick and rich without being overly bitter or chemically tasting. The chocolate is mild, letting the eggy, creamy taste of the custard shine through. The peanut butter flavor takes a backseat, offering a slightly salty backnote to all of that sweetness. Totally craveable.

BurgerFi offers tasty food at great prices. It’s nothing novel, but it does fit a need in that neighborhood. Though the burgers can’t touch Shake Shack’s, the fries are just as good and the dessert options are actually better. Hopefully there are more places like this in the future, because if there is anything I consistently need and want…

It’s a burger

Burgerfi on Urbanspoon

Root Vegetable Gratin – Go Away, Spring!

I think I overrated spring.

There are lots of tourists. Bugs the size of my head. And I have to want raw vegetables all the time. Or at least pretend that I want them. People look down their noses at me when I want clam chowder in a bread bowl in 80 degree weather.

I mean…what’s the next time that I will be able to eat something like this? Hearty, cheesy, and so comforting that you might want to call it Nana.

Root Vegetable Gratin

Ingredients:

2 heads cauliflower, cut into steaks

1 large rutabega, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick

2 celery roots, cleaned and sliced about 1/4 inch thick

1 quart heavy cream

2 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. flour

1/2 lb. Gruyère cheese, grated

1 bunch scallions or leeks, chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1. Lay the cauliflower in a large baking dish and preheat the oven to 350F. The cauliflower should be a single layer, so you won’t use all of it up – that’s the point. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper – the cauliflower really soaks it up.

2. Add a layer of rutabega and season.

3. And add the celery root. Repeat until the pan is full or all of the veggies have been used up, lasagna style. Don’t forget to season each layer as you go. Now set the pan aside.

4. Over a medium high flame, combine the garlic, scallions, and cream. Bring to a rolling boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. When the flavor of the cream is infused with the alliums, remove the garlic but not the onions. Toss the garlic.

6. In a sautee pan, add the butter and flour to it over high heat, then whisk until it forms a thick, golden-ish paste.

7. Add a ladle-ful of the seasoned cream and whisk away until it is not lumpy and the cream is incorporated.

You now have a slurry with which to turn the cream into bechamel. Just like in mac and cheese, it ensures that the cheese does not seize up and become grainy.

8. Now add the slurry to the cream, stir to combine, and…

incorporate the cheese, stirring constantly until it all melts.

9. Pour the bechamel over the root veggies.

10. Cover with foil and roast for 1.5 hours, or until all of the vegetables are very soft when poked with a fork.

11. You may have excess water/butterfat when the stuff is done roasting. If so, drain it. You might not get all of it out, but try to get most of it out so the dish isn’t soggy.

12. Serve.

Yeah, this is pretty damn good. It’s sweet, nutty, and infused with a gentle garlicky flavor. The root vegetables each bring different flavors to the table – the celery root is grassy and clean, the rutabaga is starchy and sweet, and the cauliflower (not actually a root veggie) turns wonderfully creamy, almost like mashed potatoes. The Gruyère sauce adds a rich umami flavor that would be otherwise missing – don’t skip the roux. It is the secret to making sure this turns out crunchy and golden on top and creamy underneath.

I don’t care if it is spring. I’m gonna go outside and eat this in a bikini*, if I have to.

*muumuu

Lox, Eggs, and Onion Matzo Brei Bake

Passover has ended! Did you enjoy last night’s bread-stravaganza? I know I did!

However, I may have been a little harsh in one of the week’s earlier posts. I don’t always hate matzah. I enjoy it covered in chocolate. I like it in meatloaf. And I actually crave it, year round, in matzo brei.

This dish, made of soaked and rung-out matzah, is a perennial favorite. It combines eggs, matzo, and any number of add-ins. Some like it served sweet with jam. I prefer it on the savory side with sour cream.

And I especially love it in this easy to make, old school deli style version:

Lox, Eggs, and Onions Matzo Brei Bake

Ingredients:

8 eggs

1 brick cream cheese

8 oz. smoked salmon or lox

2 tbsp. butter

1 onion, diced

1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh dill, cleaned and chopped

1 box matzoh (or a little less is okay, too)

pepper

 sour cream (to serve alongside)

1. Put the butter in a pan over medium heat and melt it. Add the onions and sautee for 20 minutes, or until they are golden and caramelized. In the meanwhile…

2. Break up the matzah into large pieces (like 3 pieces per cracker), and put them in a colander. Run cold water over the colander until the matzah is quite mushy.

3. After the matzah is all wet, turn off the water and wring out the matzah until it is quite dry. You will really break the matzoh up at this point, and though it will be soggy it should not be sopping wet.

4. Combine it with the eggs, lox, and onions. Whisk it and add pepper, if you like.

5. Add the cream cheese and dill, whisk again, and throw in a 325F oven for 30 minutes, or until the eggs are puffed around the edges and just set in the middle.

6. Top with scallions, and sour cream, and eat immediately or at room temperature.

This is the BEST brunch dish. It can be made a couple of hours ahead of time and it feds a whole mess of people. It is sophisticated tasting but – as you see – incredibly simple to make. The salmon firms up and is rich and pleasantly salty. The cream cheese is rich and the onions are sweet and savory. The matzo becomes crisp in some parts, soft in others. It is purely textural, and lets the classic flaors of the lox, eggs, and onions shine. Pairing this with some smooth sour cream is the ultimate way to cap off a truly delicious brunch.

Look at me…I jsut called matzah delicious.