Friday, December 23, 2011

Brick chicken drizzled with pomegranate-cider sauce

There's nothing I love more than crispy chicken skin. It is just addictive. When my parents peel the skin off their chicken, I want to howl at them and ask them "WHY???!!" Instead, I just reach over and snatch the poor tossed skin and pop the crunchy goodness into my mouth.

Brick chicken is a beautiful fall/winter dish that you can put together relatively easily and pain free. It is also much better on your thighs and stomach during this holiday season full of baked goods. I love all the festive green and red from the brussel sprouts and pomegranate seeds. The sauce may appear to be a little too tangy; but when you pair it along with a piece of chicken, parsnip, brussel sprout and pomegranate, it is perfect.

Make this dish for an untraditional, casual holiday dinner.

Serves 2

4 pieces whole chicken leg
5 sprigs fresh thyme
4 tbsp olive oil
1 parsnip, peeled and medium diced
1/4 lb brussel sprouts, halved & ends trimmed
1 pomegranate, seeded and juices reserved (approx 2 tbsp)
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1/8 cup apple cider
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt and freshly ground mixed peppercorns

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Oil 1 tbsp per chicken on both sides. Add 1 sprig of thyme for each chicken. Using a cast iron pan or something heavy, sit it on top of the chicken to press down. Cook in oven for 30-35 minutes.

3. On separate baking sheet, toss parsnip, brussel sprouts, thyme leaves, salt and pepper with olive oil. Cook in oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

4. In a small saucepan, add pomegranate juice (fresh and bottled), cider, salt and pepper. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Add vinegar and 3 tbsp pomegranate seeds, then lower heat to simmer. Cook for 5 more minutes until slightly thickened. It will still be pretty thin.

6. To plate, mound a helpful of the brussel sprout-parsnip in the middle of a plate. Top with 2 pieces of chicken per plate. Add 1/2 tbsp seed over and peel a few outer leaves from brussel sprouts to scatter over plate. Drizzle sauce over chicken. Serve immediately.

Happy holidays everyone! Here a few holiday photos from around the city to get you in the spirit in case you aren't yet

Enjoy your holiday feasts with family and/or friends wherever you are.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Espresso Hot Cocoa

One of the favorite things I look forward to once the temperatures start dropping is hot cocoa. There's something just inherently Christmas-y about it. The rich chocolate smell and the bobbing white fluffy marshmallows can instantly put me in the holiday spirit and brings back childhood memories of my mom making my sister and I hot cocoa from packets of Swiss Miss.

Last weekend, my parents and I spent our Saturday helping my sister and Brent decorate their new home for their first Christmas.

And boy did we go all out! Digging through boxes of ornaments, oohing and ahhing over them as they are revealed, untangling lights, rehanging the lights twice, hanging each ornament perfectly, and stringing bell door hangers is exhausting though.  So, all of that hard work called for a mid-hot cocoa break!
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree!
Brent kindly offered to make us his home-made hot cocoa to revive our flagging spirits.  While there were no marshmallows, it was definitely a home run that was made all the better with a shot of espresso and finished off with a little chocolate log of pure hedonism. For an even more over the top twist, I would add a shot of bourbon or Grand Marnier. Now THAT is what I call holiday cheer!

Thank you Brent for sharing this classic recipe with me and all my readers! Happy holidays to everyone!!

Makes 5 9-oz servings

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup Hershey's or Ghiradelli cocoa powder
Dash salt
1/3 cup hot water
4 cups skim milk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
4 shots espresso
Dash of cinnamon
Marshmallows or chocolate log to garnish (optional)

1. Whisk together cocoa, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in water. Heat over medium until boiling. Add milk, continue whisking together and remove all lumps. Do not let boil or the milk will burn.

2. Remove from heat and add vanilla, espresso and cinnamon. Using a handheld foamer, create a slight froth.

3. Pour into 5 mugs and top with garnish of your choice. Turn on your favorite holiday movie and enjoy!!
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even the dog.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Pop Rock" Cupcakes

Those of you who have never heard of pop rocks, go out there and grab a pack now! Just for giggles if nothing else.

Pop rocks were something I grew up on as a kid. It comes a shiny black packet in all these bright fun neon colors with "Pop Rocks" jumping right at you. My favorite thing to do was to rip open the bag and pour the entire thing into my mouth. Then, the magical explosion of these candy rock crystals would start popping everywhere within my mouth causing me a little pain which I gleefully bore. Hitting the top of my mouth, sides, down into my tonsils and bouncing all the way into my head it was simply the best thing...EVER.

So when I saw them for the first time in about 15 years in the Target $1 bin, I had to grab the pack of 3 immediately. Originally, I was going to just eat them straight from the pack like when I was a child. But, then I started brainstorming and decided they would make a wonderful surprise treat for Thanksgiving.

I am not a baker even though I enjoy it. So I used Amy Sedaris' cupcake recipe as a base and riffed off it. You can use vanilla extract, but the vanilla beans add a richer taste and looks so pretty with all the little seeds.

The vanilla bean cupcake base with the fluffy cream cheese frosting was the perfect foil for the berry flavored pop rocks. It is a sensory experience. As your guests bring the cupcake towards their mouth, they get a whiff of the vanilla. When they first hear the crackle, you'll get a strange look from your guests. Then the first bite into the moist cupcake...silence and slow chewing as they try to figure out what exactly is going on. And lastly, the smiles and giggles as one person finally asks: "What is on this cupcake?!?!!" Truly, the most fun eating a cupcake!

I hope you enjoy the experience as much as we all did. Just make sure to top them on the cupcakes right before serving as they lose all of their magical pop after about 10 minutes and melt into a gooey pink mess.
Adapted from Amy Sedaris' recipe
Makes 12

For cupcakes:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 fresh vanilla bean, cut in half and scrape seeds out
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups milk
2 packets pop rocks

For cream cheese frosting:
1/2 stick low fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cupcake pan with paper holders.

2. Add butter to mixer and beat at medium speed until somewhat smooth. Pour in sugar and eggs, mix well.

3. Then, add vanilla beans, baking powder, salt, flour and milk. Mix thoroughly and use an ice cream scooper to evenly distribute the mixture among the lined cups. Bake for 20 minutes until golden on top. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

4. In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to whip the cream cheese. Slowly add in powdered sugar. When incorporated, add juice. Continue whipping for another minute until it is mixed. Cover and reserve until ready to use.

5. Frost each cupcake to your liking. I am not a big frosting person, so I usually only have a pretty thin layer.  If you want to make it look prettier, feel free to use a piping bag.  I just used an icing knife to smooth it over.

6. Top with pop rocks and serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turkey Day Extravaganza Redux: Moroccan Turkey Shepard's Pie

The biggest question the day after Thanksgiving is WHAT am I going to do with all these leftovers? You open the refrigerator door and days of eating turkey, stuffing, mac n cheese, etc just looms in front of you. It can be a little scary.

Moroccan Turkey Shepard's Pie
Worry no more my fellow readers! Below are some ideas taken from my Thanksgiving cooking bonanza last week where we finished all the leftovers without eating the same thing twice! It was incredibly easy and delicious.
Pumpkin pancakes

Panko-crusted two-potato croquetas
Turkey Day Tortilla Espanola
From 2010, another Moroccan take with turkey tagine over couscous.

The star of this cooking blitz though was definitely my Moroccan Turkey Shepard's Pie using leftover turkey meat, gravy and mashed potatoes from the night before. The sweet warmth from the cinnamon and cloves, tartness from cranberries, slight smokiness of the cumin, and pure deliciousness of the turkey and sausage together made for the perfect laid back dinner post-Thanksgiving that was still special enough to serve at a second dinner.  It was so special that a chunk was taken out before I had a chance to photograph it!

I would highly recommend using merguez sausage for this recipe as it has all the flavors needed to highlight the Moroccan flavors. However, I actually couldn't locate any merguez due to time constraints. So I picked up some really beautiful pork sausages with blueberries at the meat counter in Whole Foods. I felt the blueberries would add to the sweet and fruity undertones I was looking to achieve.

For the mashed potato topping, you can just spread it on top without any extra ingredients if you made it using plain old Idaho potatoes.  Since we made mashed two-potatoes though, I wanted to bring out the sweet flavor of the sweet potatoes and round out the entire dish.

I hope you enjoy this new take on an Irish classic!

Serves 8

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large Vidalia onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh cranberries
3 links merguez or sausage of your choice
2 cups leftover turkey, mix of white and dark meat, roughly chopped
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tbsp ground clove
1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
2 stem fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup leftover gravy
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the topping:
4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
2 tbsp high quality maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 sprig fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Preheat over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a medium pot, warm oil over medium high heat.  Add onion, garlic carrot and cranberries and cook together for a few minutes until onions become slightly translucent. Make sure garlic does not burn.

3.  Pull off rough chunks of merguez and add to the mixture.  Cook until golden brown on outside and then add turkey.  Add cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cumin and thyme to the pot. Mix until fully incorporated for 2-3 minutes.

4.  Add gravy and chicken stock to the pot. Bring to a boil until it comes together for 5-7 minutes and then season to taste.  You should not need a lot of salt, if any, by this point because of the gravy.  Pour into a medium size oval casserole dish

5.  In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the topping with a large wooden spoon. Gently drop large spoonfuls of the potatoes over the turkey mixture until fully covered and then use the wooden spoon to smooth it all around.

6.  Bake in oven for 40 minutes. Garnish with a few thyme leaves and serve immediately.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Turkey Day Extravaganza 2011: Henry XIII and the King of Stuffing

I hope that everyone had a yummy Thanksgiving day feast with friends and family!  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year since it is literally a holiday based around eating, drinking, friends and family.  Planning the Thanksgiving day meal usually starts for me a bit before Halloween and continues till the week before when it is finalized and I head out to the grocery store and farmer's market.

This was a momentous Thanksgiving for me as I cooked three, yes THREE different meals.  Now, I know what you all must be thinking. Is she crazy? BUT, with careful planning it can be a pretty stress free cooking zone. Secret: we spent most of the time from when the turkey went into the oven to the time it came out drinking my sister's concoctions, dancing to our playlist and playing with the dog. True story.

The big traditional feast was on D-Day for just immediate family; Friday was leftovers remade for my aunt and cousins; and then Saturday dinner with the last of the leftovers completely recooked in a new dish for just me and my parents.  It was truly a turkey-licious weekend! Since there were so many recipes to share, this will be a 2-part blog.  The next one will give all of you, who are still working through your Thanksgiving leftovers, a new life on your turkey.

Now, you might be wondering who exactly is Henry XIII? Who else can Henry be, TURKEY! The tradition of naming my turkeys Henry started when I was a senior in college.  The Mistress of Spices and I decided to cook our very first Thanksgiving dinner party before everyone left for the holiday weekend.  Since the Mistress is vegetarian, I took it upon myself to make the turkey.  I had never made one before, nor had it growing up so it was definitely a challenge.  A few days before the party, I went out to our ghetto Safeway and picked up a nice and plump 12 pound turkey.  In a moment of giddiness, I named him Henry (because what else would you name a turkey) and all turkeys following him were named thusly. Our party was a rousing success and I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner since that momentous year 13 years ago!

Each year, I make a new turkey and experiment with different recipes.  Every year with continued practice, I found myself getting more and more comfortable with making up my own recipes. This year, I took the training wheels off completely with a menu that was about 95% mine! I was a little nervous since none of the recipes were tested, but my mother's praise (surely the hardest critic around!) of each dish and the quiet that fell over the table as each person started eating washed all my worries away.

Here is what was on the menu:

* Thyme gougéres (I made these a few days ahead of time)
* Roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds
* Mashed sweet & Idaho potatoes
* Grilled prawns
* Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Wild Mushrooms
* Cranberry Ginger Chutney (This was made the night before)
* Rye Stuffing with Smoked Oysters, Sausage, Pecans and Persimmons (the KING of stuffings!)
* Chinese 5-Spice and Clementine Turkey with Citrus Gravy
* Pumpkin Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookie
* "Pop Rock" Cupcakes (This was made the night before and topped the special ingredient right before serving)

Left Photo: Cranberry Ginger Chutney & Roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds
Right Photo: Thyme gougéres and acorn squash with quinoa and wild mushrooms
The feast laid out in all its glory!
 There were many delicious recipes I wanted to share with you, but unfortunately this posting would be pages and pages long. So I decided to share what I consider the two star dishes on a Thanksgiving menu: the turkey and the stuffing.
I wanted to create a meal that my parents could really enjoy.  They've never really acclimated to what they think of as American cooking (pasta, pizza, anything with cheese & fat), so I wanted to bring them a meal chockful of flavor and spices. Each year, they want something else other than turkey. And each year, I cook the bird in the hopes of turning them over. I think this year was it with my Asian inflected Chinese 5-spice and clementine turkey. Juicy and tender with a hint of citrus and star anise from the 5-spice embedded on the crispy pieces of skin, it is definitely a turkey to remember.

Grilled Prawns

For those of you unfamiliar with Chinese 5-Spice powder, it is predominantly made from star anise, cinnamon, cloves, Sichuan pepper and ground fennel seeds. It is an aromatic blend that is used mainly on poultry and meats, though it has been used on vegetables as well.  You can find it easily at any Asian store and some supermarkets in the spice aisle.
The stuffing literally came to me in a moment of clarity: smoked oysters and persimmons somehow seemed to make perfect sense to me as strange as the combination sounded.  Each ingredient came together with the smoked oyster adding a salty brininess, the sausage a little heat,  the persimmons a hint of sweetness and toasted pecans a textural crunch.

While Thanksgiving may be over now, I hope that you will save this recipe to try next year or for your upcoming Christmas dinner.  Who says turkey can only around once a year on the last Thursday of November?
Serves 12

For the turkey:
One 15-lb turkey (no hormones if you can)
1/2 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 tbsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tbsp grated Clementine peel (approximately 4-5 Clementines)
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 fennel (including fronds), roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 stalks fresh thyme
3 clementines, quartered
Gizzards, heart, liver and neck from cavity of turkey

For the gravy:
Reserved drippings from turkey, drained (approximately 1 cup)
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
3 tbsp unbleached flour
3 tbsp orange juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. The evening before or the morning of Turkey day, prep the turkey and lightly pat it dry of any moisture. In a small bowl, add the next 5 ingredients and mix thoroughly.  With your hands (yes, you will get dirty!), rub pieces of the butter mixture under the skin of turkey and all over each and every inch of the bird.  Put on roaster, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate until an hour before you are ready to cook.

2. Take the turkey out an hour before you are ready to cook to bring the meat back up to room temperature to cook evenly. Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Add the rest of the ingredients for turkey on the base of the roasting pan.  This will all be used to create the flavorful stock for the gravy. The turkey goes on top of it. Season again with salt and black pepper on top. Remember, it's a big bird!

3. You can stuff the turkey with your stuffing or not at this point.  My sister and I adore the stuffing from inside the turkey because all of the juices run into it. But it is not necessary.  If you decide to make your turkey without the stuffing, you can remove it an half hour earlier than my recipe calls for.

4.  Cover the turkey back with the aluminum foil and roast the turkey for an hour.  This will keep the bird from drying out. Take out the turkey, baste and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Baste the turkey every half hour for the next 3 hours to ensure that gorgeous golden brown color. In the last half hour, uncover the turkey and let roast for a nice crispy and golden crust.  At this point, I have made turkey so many times that I can usually tell by touch and color that it is done.  But for a more accurate read, use a meat thermometer; the turkey should be at 180 degrees fahrenheit.

5. Remove from oven and put on platter and let stand at room temperature for an additional 20-25 minutes.  This will allow all the juices to evenly distribute through the meat. It will also continue cooking during this time.

6. While the turkey is resting, start on your 10-minute gravy. Pour the turkey drippings into an oil separator.  This will take the top grease out of your gravy. Make sure to squeeze the juices out of the roasted vegetables and clementines with the back of a wooden spoon.  It should come out to approximately 1 cup.

7. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the dripping and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil.

8.  In a small mixing bowl, mix the water and flour. Whisk together until smooth and no lumps.  When the drippings mixture has come to a boil, then add the water-flour mixture.  This will thicken the gravy. To make thicker/thinner gravy, adjust the flour measurements.

9.  Bring to a boil again, add juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower to medium-low heat and simmer for a few minutes for the gravy to come together.  Remove from heat and pour into your ready gravy boat.

10.  Serve immediately with turkey.

Serves 10-12

1 loaf day old rye bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 large Vidalia onions, roughly diced
1 stalk celery, roughly diced
2 stalks fresh thyme
1/2 tsp herbes de provence
2 hot Italian sausages, casings removed and roughly broken into small pieces
2 persimmons, quartered with skin removed

2 cans smoked oysters
3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 large eggs, whisked together
3 cups warm chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahreneheit.  On a lined baking sheet, spread the bread evenly over the surface to toast. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to ensure it gets a golden, light brown crust. Toast for 10 min to ensure crunchy croutons.

2.  In a large skillet pan with taller sides, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, celery and thyme.  Cook for a few minutes until the onions become slightly translucent.  Add sausage and mix together and cook until outside is a light caramel brown. 

3.  Add persimmons, oysters and pecans and mix together again for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Add toasted bread to the mixture.  Add eggs and fold together.  Then, add one cup of broth at a time and fold gently again.  If more/less broth is needed, adjust accordingly.  The stuffing should be the right consistency when the bread is slightly soft to the touch, but NOT mushy and falling apart.

4.  Reserve 2 cups to stuff inside the turkey.  The rest can be put into a medium size baking dish and refrigerated up to a day before the event. 

5.  Forty-five minutes before the turkey is supposed to come out of the oven, put the stuffing into the 350 degrees fahrenheit oven.  While you take the turkey out of the oven and make the gravy, continue baking for an additional 15 minutes until toasty brown on top and slightly puffed.  

6.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Remember, this stuffing recipe is really just a base.  You can do whatever you want to it.  If you don't like a certain ingredient, feel free to experiement and add whatever you have on hand.  It can easily be made vegetarian with some squash, kale or broccoli.  Have a wonderful and safe holiday season everyone! Happy cooking!! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pumpkin-Celeriac Soup with "Not Your Momma's" Grilled Cheese Sandwich

It's a rainy, slightly balmy (around 57 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight), fall day in New York. The best part about fall is not only the turning color of the leaves, but of them floating from the trees when the wind blows. It's peaceful.  It really does seem like time stands still at times like these. On days like this, I love to embrace fall by using local and fresh ingredients that I luckily can find around me.

I have also decided this season to cook with new produce that I have never used in the past and experiment a little and step out of my comfort zone.  I found this weirdly beautiful celeriac at the farmer's market and decided to use it to make one of my favorite things: soup.  

For those of you as clueless as I was about celeriac, it is also commonly known as celery root.  A root vegetable grown from celery, it has an earthy, anise and floral scent around the leaves. But it smells similar to a turnip (another root vegetable) when you cut it open.  Celeriac is as diverse to use as a potato:  roasted plain, gratin, soups, salads, etc. I know that I intend to try it again in another form because my pumpkin-celeriac soup was fall in a bowl!

You'll notice there is no heavy cream or milk in this soup.  When I make soups, I usually tend to leave it out.  I don't think it is necessary as I replace it with chicken stock and a little sour cream or Greek yogurt to give it a little creaminess and tang.  It's a matter of taste and if you'd prefer to use it, go right head! I finish it at the end with a bit of lime juice to bring out all the flavors and bring a light, freshness to the creamy soup.

Serves 3-4

1 medium size celeriac (approximately 1/2 lb), ends cut off and skin peeled off
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2-inch ginger, skin removed and minced
1/2 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp Chinese Five Spice
1 tsp ground clove
10 oz organic canned pumpkin
2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/2 lime, juiced
Chives, snipped (optional)

1.  Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it warms up, prepare the celeriac and cut into large 1 inch cubes. Toss quickly in a bit of olive oil, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and put into the oven to roast for approximately 20-25 minutes until tender. Let cool to room temperature.

2.  Add oil to a pot and heat over medium high heat. Add next five ingredients and toast for a few minutes until you can smell the spices, garlic and ginger. Then, add pumpkin and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.

3.  Add celeriac to the soup and use a hand-held immersion blender to purée the celeriac with the pumpkin mixture.  Mix until the celeriac is fully incorporated. I like my soups a little chunkier for a more earthy feel.  But you can purée it as smooth as you like.

4.  Put the soup back on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil again.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and then simmer on low for an additional 5-10 minutes for the flavors to really come together.

5.  Remove from heat and add sour cream/yogurt and lime juice. Gently incorporate it into the soup.  Serve in a bowl topped with a bit more sour cream/yogurt and snipped chives.

There is nothing more perfect to serve alongside soup than a grilled cheese sandwich.  Now, originally this post was only supposed to be about only the pumpkin-celeriac soup.  But the grilled cheese was so out of this world that I had to blog about it here too.  I mean, it was blow your mind good.  Growing up, grilled cheese to me (made lovingly by my mom even though she hates cheese herself) and probably most of America was Wonder Bread, a slice or two of Kraft's cheese, and margarine.  It was gooey, messy and had that bizarre fake orangey color that to a kid means yumminess. 

As many good memories as I have about those grilled cheese sandwiches, this was soooo much BETTER.  Butter, good cheese and a little bit of the Ploughman's Pickle from Marks & Spencers I picked up when I was in London last, oh man. If you don't have either of the cheeses, replace it with whatever you might have in the fridge already that melts well.  Obviously, the Ploughman's pickle will be a bit difficult to find here in the US.  No problem! Replace it with a dab of your favorite chutney or pickled vegetable instead.  It is that sweet, sour tang that really brings the entire sandwich together and completes the experience alongside the soup for the best fall dinner or a hearty lunch. 
Check out the strands of melted cheese as I bit into it! Don't you want a taste?  :)

Makes 1 Sandwich


1/2 tbsp butter

3 slices good white bread
3/4 cup English cheddar, grated
3/4 cup Emmmanthaler cheese, grated
4 tbsp jarred Ploughman's pickle or any jarred chutney or pickled vegetable

1.  In a non-stick skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.

2.  While butter is melting, put the sandwich together.  Top one slice with a mixture of the cheeses and half the chutney. Add the second slice of bread on top and repeat. Finish with the last slice of bread.  Place in the pool of sizzling melted butter on the stove. Grill for 3 minutes until golden brown, pressing down lightly with your spatula to allow it to melt together.  When it starts to stick together, flip and repeat for an additional 3 minutes until cheese is fully melted.

3.  Cut in half and serve alongside soup.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fall Comfort Food: Fresh Pasta Sheets with Fava Beans & Andouille Sausage

It has been a crazy fall in NYC.

One week ago during Halloween weekend, this is what the city looked like the day after the freak snow/sleet storm hit the East Coast.

Downed trees and branches lined all along Museum Mile on Fifth Ave, numerous paths in Central Park were completely closed off due to massive trees being cut in half, snow blanketed the park, and kids sledding down hills. In October.  Tourists and native New Yorkers alike gawked at the destruction Mother Nature had wreaked and left behind.

It was wild, but so amazingly beautiful to walk through the park, see the trees in the full glory of fall foliage with the snow on the ground. 
So for my first weekend back in New York after almost a month of work travel, I took full advantage of the early winter weather with Tyler.  It was the perfect welcome back home.

That afternoon after defrosting a bit over a cup of warm apple cider, I decided to finally cook the lovely fava beans I had brought back with me from the farmer's market my short weekend in San Francisco...more specifically Mountain View (home of Google).

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and have not checked out the Mountain View farmer's market yet, you are missing out.  While it is not the largest market I have been to, it is definitely chock full of some beautiful product and fresh home-cooked treats (which also made its way back home with me too...of course), including fresh shucked oysters.

But I digress as usual.  :)   When the first change of weather from warm to cold arrives, I always want a plateful of hot pasta to warm myself up.  It's so comforting to smell the sauce cooking away on the stove on a cold Sunday evening, the warm inviting smell just drawing you in.  If I had a fireplace, I would curl up in front of it and tuck into the bowl of pasta. But since I don't, I settled for a glass of red wine instead. Curled up in my chair with Tyler dozing at my feet and my Sunday TV line-up in the background. Perfect.

With that scene in my head, I stopped by the market to pick up a few things including some fresh lasagna sheets for my pasta dish that night.  There is no shame if you don't make your own pasta sheet. Sometimes you just don't have the time and since it's already there...well, I took the easy step! It is not necessary to purchase lasagna sheets to make square pasta sheets. It will take equally delicious if you have dried penne, cavatelli or farfalle in your pantry. I just love the nice chew from fresh pasta and the look of the square shape.

The best part about this pasta dish is how easy it was to make and assemble.  Even if you don't cook regularly, it is definitely something you will want to add onto your limited repertoire because of how simple it is to make. Yet the flavors are bold and complex with the spicy sausage, the dry sweetness of the Cabernet, and the fresh clean taste of the beans.  It is a great dish to serve if you decide to host a weeknight dinner party since it looks a lot more difficult to put together.  Bon appetit and hope that everyone had a great Halloween week!

 Serves 4

1/2 lb fresh fava beans or frozen shelled fava beans or edamame
1 8 oz package fresh lasagna sheets, cut into 1-inch squares
2 andouille sausage, case removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp herbes de provence
1/2 cup pasta water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Fistful of flat parsley, roughly chopped
Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. To prepare the fava beans, boil a pot of salted water with the fava beans and cook for 5 minutes. Drain water and let cool. Shell the pod and remove the beans inside.  Put to the side until ready to use.

2. Boil another pot of water on high while cooking the beans for the pasta. Remember to salt the water to season the pasta as it cooks. Let the water come to a boil before adding the pasta.  Lower to mid-heat and continue boiling for 3-5 minutes until al dente.  Note that fresh pasta cooks a lot faster than dried.  If you are using dried pasta, it should take approximately 8-10 minutes to become al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and run cold water over the pasta squares for a minute to keep it from sticking and to wash away any excess starch.

3. While pasta and beans are cooking, add olive oil to a large skillet.  Remove sausage from casing and roughly pull into small chunks. Add sausage and beans to the skillet and brown for about 5 minutes over medium heat.  Then add garlic and mix together for a minute, making sure not to burn it.

4.  Add red wine, tomato paste, herbes de provence, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil for a few minutes and let reduce down a bit until it is slightly thick.

5.  To the bean-meat mixture, add the cooked pasta and parsley to the large skillet and gently fold all ingredients together until mixed fully. Add the reserved pasta water to make the sauce less dry. Finish with the butter which will give it a richer taste and a nice shine to the pasta.

6.  Serve into individual bowls and garnish with parsley and parmigiano-reggiano.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sharing A Chinese-American Dream Over Fried Chicken & Berry Cobbler

2011 was a very busy year for my little sister. Not only did she find herself engaged to her boyfriend of two years, but they also decided to make the next big move and buy their first home together. 

After a long six months of looking for their home, they finally knew their search was at an end with a new 3-bedroom townhouse in a complex that was just being finished in northern NJ.  After stumbling upon one complication and another, they were finally able to move in towards the end of July.  

It was crunch time for us since we had close friends and family arriving the following week to celebrate their engagement.  So, I pumped myself up to a weekend of major unpacking and a whirlwind shopping trip to furnish the bottom floor of the house.  

Here are some photos of the finished product! Not bad for a weekend's work I must say.  :)  
Over 30 years ago, my mother and father moved with me to the US in hopes of starting a new life full of opportunities that we might not have in Taiwan.  In the late '70s, every immigrant that moved to the States came with a vision of prosperity and opportunity at every corner.  While we may now be in the middle of an economic crisis that appears to be unending, days like these bring home how much my parents gave up by leaving their family and arriving in a new country with no friends or family.  

My post today really highlights the melding of my upbringing in a Chinese household in the suburbs of New Jersey.  The weekend that my sister and her fiancé moved in, I decided to cook a dinner for the three of us and my parents to inaugurate their new home and new life together. Over some bubblies (which invariably pop open whenever we have dinner together), my Thomas Keller fried chicken recipe that they had been hounding me to make again for months and some good ol' comforting berry cobbler, we shared the ultimate American dream of finding a place in a new country and making it our very own.  

For the fried chicken recipe from Chef Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook, I am not posting it here since you can now find it online.  You can adjust seasonings to your taste, but I honestly think this is one of those recipes I try to follow to a "t" because it is is "finger-lickin' good!"  As my father said when I first made it for them on a hot summer day, "It's better than KFC!"  Since it is his favorite fried chicken around, I knew I had finally found THE fried chicken recipe after years of disappointing recipes.  While it is pretty labor intensive, the final results are well worth the effort.

Perfectly crisp with just a little heat from the cayenne pepper (and smoked paprika which I threw in!), the lemon brine the chicken sits in overnight gives the chicken meat so much flavor and keeps it succulent and juicy.  I like to garnish my fried chicken when it is right out of the fryer with either fresh rosemary or thyme leaves. I was glad to see that Chef Keller concurred with me with the same garnish in his recipe. The heat from the chicken releases a slight fragrance from the herbs and adds to the aromatic fragrance of the fried chicken. I'm salivating just thinking of it right now.  :)
I made the chicken in the morning before driving up to their new home and reheated it in the oven at 375 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes; this also helps the chicken finish cooking and crisp up again since I covered it with aluminum foil. You'll know it's ready to take out when the skin is sizzling.

While it was in the oven, I sauteed a simple spinach with garlic.

This easy fruit cobbler is a recipe that I always make now for friends when I don't have time to bake anything else for dessert. It is my go to recipe that is never even measured anymore because it is so easy and quick to make! It was literally made from scratch and put into the oven while we devoured the fried chicken. It took no more than 10 minutes to put it all together.  Unfortunately, there was no vanilla ice cream on hand.  But á la mode is definitely the preferred accompaniment for cobbler in the family!

There is nothing better than the scent of fresh home-cooking wafting through the entire house. It is always so warm and inviting. Whether it is a muggy summer day or snowy winter night, nothing is more welcoming than the smell of fried chicken and the cinnamon from the berry cobbler, American or not!

I promise that this recipe is a must for your repertoire.  Once you've mastered the basic concept you can add anything to it.  The lemon juice is not necessary, but I find that it keeps the colors of the baked berries intense and brings out the natural sweetness of the fruit without having to add excess.

Serves 6

1 pint blackberries, rinsed thoroughly
1 pint strawberries, rinsed thoroughly, hulled and halved
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tbsp Saigon cinnamon (much more intense than your usual grocery store variety)
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1 fresh vanilla bean
1/2 lemon, juiced (very juicy, otherwise increase to 1 lemon)

For streusel topping:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

2.  In an oven-proof oval baking dish (or whatever you have on hand), add all the ingredients from blackberries to lemon juice together.  With your hands or a spoon, gently mix it all together.

2. In a metal mixing bowl, add all ingredients for the topping and using your hands mix until combined.  It should have a crumbly texture.  If you have kids, step#2 is fun for them to get involved because they get to get their hands dirty!

3.  Top the berries with the streusel topping.  It does not need to be perfect! Just throw it on and have fun.  Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes.  You will know it is finished when the topping is golden brown and berries bubbling in their juices.

4.  Serve immediately or at room temperature with/without vanilla ice cream.  It can also be topped with fresh whipped cream or créme fraîche. 

NOTE: You can use any fruit combination of your choice with this recipe. I have used it in the past with peaches, apples, and mango. It is a great way to use up any extra fruit you have laying around the house. I have also added candied ginger to the topping in the past if you have it in your pantry. It gives it a nice zing!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Farm to Table Inspiration: Sautéed Rainbow Chard, Yellow Haricot Verts and Edamame

Today, on the last Friday before Labor Day weekend and a few days after Hurricane Irene battered the Northeast, was one of those perfect lazy summer days.  Robin blue skys, puffy white clouds, bright sun and a cool refreshing breeze signaling the oncoming fall.  It was one of those days for me where you want to throw your arms wide open and spin in a circle before falling down onto the grass, dizzy with the knowledge that you are alive and surrounded by your loved ones. Running errands on a day like this is a pleasure.  And as you all well know, one of my favorite things is heading to the farmer's market to see what treasures they are offering.

Strangely enough, I spent most of my summer away from NYC so this was really the first time I was able to enjoy Union Square's infamous farmer's market since ramp season in May.  So I was really excited to walk among all the locals and tourists this afternoon to see what I could pick up to cook over Labor Day weekend.

Most of the time, I go to the market with a specific list of what I am looking for.  This was one of those rare times that I had no menu or agenda where I let the market decide for me.  There were tons of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes as they are the seasonal fruit of choice at the moment.  Though I glanced longingly at them, they were not purchased as I had heirloom tomatoes waiting at home for me already to use with my burrata (an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and it looks like a mozzarella until you cut into the middle and the sublime gooeyness oozes out).  Instead I decided to pick up some yellow haricot verts and rainbow chard; the fluorescent colors already playing out in my head on the best way to feature it.  Another shopper in line behind me where I was purchasing some outrageously large green and yellow zucchini, eyed my chard's bright green and neon pink leaves hanging out of my straw bag and declared: "It's like art. Are you eating it or taking it home to look at only?" I told her both!
Rainbow chard, a variety of Swiss chard, is a completely new vegetable to me.  I have always looked at it in the supermarket because of its' striking colors, but never picked it up. I knew it was a slightly bitter vegetable that usually appeared in the late summer and early fall in numerous pasta dishes or alongside grilled meats.  As well as being so pretty to look at, swiss chard is also high in fiber, proteins and vitamins A, C & K.

I had been dying to try out the Swiss chard gnudi recipe from Bon Appetit, but I wanted to honor the vegetable's Mediterranean roots and highlight the colors that had grabbed my attention.  Once I mixed the chard into the pasta dough, I knew I was going to lose that visual.

I highly believe in the phrase "you eat with your eyes".  So I decided to make a simple sautée with the rainbow chard, yellow haricot verts and shelled edamame (since I couldn't locate fresh fava beans) with toasted almonds for a little crunch.  With the bright reds, pinks, yellow and green hues, it is a beautiful main vegetarian dish served alongside some quinoa or bulgur. But this dish is also a fresh and light side to a grilled lamb or fish.

Sautéed Rainbow Chard, Yellow Haricot Verts, and Edamame
Serves 4-6

1 bunch rainbow chard, cut 2-inch length
1/4 lb yellow haricot verts, ends trimmed
1/2 cup shelled or frozen edamame
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Handful toasted sliced almonds
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp herbes de Provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lemon, juice freshly squeeze

1. Blanch chard and yellow haricot verts in a pot of boiling salted water for approximated 3-4 minutes.  Have a bowl of iced water ready to stop the vegetables from cooking and to retain colors once drained. Drain and put the chard and haricot verts in the iced water immediately.

2. In a large sautée pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and when hot add garlic cloves and almond to the pan.  When lightly brown, add the edamame, chard and haricot verts. Season with the red pepper, herbes de Provence, salt and pepper.

3.  Mix all ingredients together and sautée for another 3-4 minutes.  Feel free to taste it to make sure the vegetables are all salted and seasoned and adjust seasoning accordingly.

4.  Turn stove off, remove from heat and then add lemon juice over vegetables.  Mix quickly to ensure the juice is spread evenly.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.

While I always hate for the warmth of summer to end along with my flip flops, sandals and summer dresses, I can't say I'm sorry when I get to bundle up in my cozy sweaters and sweatshirts while walking Tyler.  Enjoy the dish and the last days of summer.  :)    Soon it will be time for those apple pies to start coming out and the changing of the tree leaves and my cider!