Food & Drink

I'm Chris - or Christopher - or Mr. Dean - or Master Christopher - or just plain Sir. I'm a self-professed foodie. I love to cook and I take great pleasure in all things edible. My husband and I are relatively new to Portland, Oregon and are enjoying our culinary explorations of the area!

Food is NOT just fuel!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Juice Press

I finally stopped into The Juice Press today - they've been there for a while now, and after swimming some laps at the Y during my lunch, I needed something to tide m over until dinner.  I popped in a immediately loved the place.

The vibe is fun and the menu is outstanding - I settled on #8. life force protein-c which is made up of:  "plump and delicious blueberries, hemp protein powder, one of our top secret fruits, camu camu berry, agave nectar, and coconut water."  And since my hubby has a bit of a cough, I also thought I'd treat myself to a shot of cold-pressed ginger.

The ginger was great.  I'm still feeling it.  It went down good despite the spicy flavor...and now, ten minutes later, I'm still feeling it.  WHEW!  I think you can tell I'm actually a little flushed in the photo.  :)  So I'm sucking down the life force protein-c!!


I originally saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen - one of my favorite food blogs.  I re-worked it slightly, and it's a delicious vegetarian dish that is hearty and satisfying.  This is an old Israeli dish that has a lengthy history, and it's become a favorite of mine to serve to guests - because I like forcing people to eat with their hands instead of utensils!

Onions, garlic, Sambal, cumin & paprika
You'll notice the recipe calls for a lot of strong ingredients - garlic & peppers to be exact.  Don't be afraid of these.  The first couple of times I made this, I pulled back on the peppers - but the tomatoes and eggs mellow everything out, so make sure you have a bit of a punch to the flavor.  This time I FORGOT the jalapenos!  So, I pulled out my jar of Sambal chile paste and added only a teaspoon which did the trick fantastically!!  My other change is that I use duck eggs for this dish every time - they add such a delicious richness.

Shakshuka - duck eggs cracked into the mixture
And the best part is that I serve it right in the pan.  Last night I pulled out our dining room table (bear in mind we live in NYC, so the table is a gorgeous thing that folds away into a corner and doesn't get used all that often), and sat the pan right in the middle of the table on top of my homemade trivet (it's a picture of the Ohio State Buckeye mascot that I drew when I was five years old - my grandfather had it made into a trivet - cute, right?).  Served with a bunch of pita, you can't help but reach in and enjoy yourself.


1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 jalapeno peppers, seeded & chopped finely (or 1 heaped teaspoon Sambal chile paste)
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes
6 duck eggs (of course chicken will do nicely)
1/2 cup feta cheese
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

In a large pan that has a lid (or something you can cover it with), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chiles (if using them instead of the paste) and onions with a pinch of salt.  Let them cook and begin to soften for about 6 minutes.  Add garlic, cumin, paprika and chile paste (if using that instead of raw peppers).  Stir through and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Open the can of tomatoes and crush each one with your hand before placing it in the pan.  Pour in all the liquid from the can as well, and add about 1/2 cup of water.  Bring it to a boil, and let it simmer for 15 minutes or so until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken.

Crack the eggs into the dish, evenly distributing them.  Cover the pan and let the dish cook for 5-6 minutes until the whites are cooked through.  Uncover, take off the heat, and sprinkle with feta cheese and chopped parsley.  Place the pan in the middle of the table on your own, homemade trivet.  Serve with pita and encourage everyone to play with their food!

Broiled Beef Kabobs

I began working on a menu for this weekend - my brother-in-law is flying in from Chicago for the weekend, and I always love to cook at least one meal for guests that stay with us.  So Friday night the protein is going to be lamb chops (more to come).  So while my initial thought last night was to make lamb skewers (to go with the Shakshuka), I opted for beef kabobs instead.

Beef round chunks ready to be broiled
As soon as I walked in the door I cut up the beef round and assembled a marinade.  I wanted to give the meat at least 2 hours to marinate - 4 would have been better, but it was still great.  I threw the marinating beef into the fridge and ran some errands (walked the dog, bought some stuff).

Parsley Sauce in a mortar & pestle
The main focus of the meal was to be Shakshuka (more later), and these kabobs were an addition.  The entire meal was hands-on, or rather untensil-free, which I love.  And instead of pulling out my indoor grill, I broiled the kabobs and they turned out really nice.  But because I was broiling them quickly, I didn't bother adding any chunks of vegetables (I didn't think they'd cook through enough, but I could have been wrong).  I also made a sauce in my trusty Mortar & Pestle - there is something so rewarding about having to physically work to make your food.  It was a parsley sauce with garlic, lemon, oil & salt and had the consistency of a chimichurri.

Beef Kabobs with Parsley Sauce

(marinade & beef)
1 tablespoon rosemary, crushed by hand
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, torn apart by hand
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed & chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice 1/2 lemon
Salt & pepper
1 pound beef round, cut into cubes

(parsley sauce)
1 handful flat leaf parsley, chopped roughly
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

For the marinade, in a bowl combine all the ingredients (rosemary, oregano, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper & beef) and mix thoroughly so that every piece of meat is coated.  Store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, 4 would be better, overnight might be BEST.

Once marinated, skewer 4-5 pieces of beef onto a metal skewer (if you're using wood skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 15 minutes before using).  Don't be too concerned about any clinging garlic or onion, etc.  Place under the broiler, cooking for 5-6 minutes each side.

While the kabobs are broiling, in a mortar & pestle, combine the parsley, garlic & salt and mash into a paste.  You can also use a food processor, but this is so much more fun.  I would even recommend a flavour shaker (by Jamie Oliver - like a cocktail shaker but for food items).  Add the lemon juice and mix thoroughly.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you get the consistency you want (mine was thick which was great).

Place the kabobs on a plate and drizzle the parsley sauce over them.

Creme de Fraise Martini

I stopped off at the liquor store yesterday after work.  We have an amazing liquor store in my neighborhood (Inwood, very north tip of Manhattan) called PJ's.  Seriously huge with everything you could ever want or need at really good prices.  So I was just getting some of the staples for my home bar - you know, a huge bottle of Grey Goose vodka for the freezer, etc.  And I saw a display of Trenel Liqueurs.  I've never tried this brand of French liqueurs, so I grabbed a small bottle of Creme de Fraise (strawberry).

I wanted the flavor to really shine through, so I simply shook it with some Grey Goose (healthy amount of vodka, and a good splash of Creme de Fraise).  Really nice - often times strawberry-flavored things are overly powerful and/or sweet, but this was really nice.  The smell was great as well.

Rosemary Infused Vodka

And you thought I was joking about infusing an entire bottle of vodka with rosemary?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stir Fry with Rice

This favorite creation of mine really isn't a stir fry, and it really isn't fried rice.  But it's tasty!  Basically when I'm feeling like having something light, fresh and tasty, I whip up this dish.  You can use ANY vegetables and protein you'd like.  I've made it with baby corn and sugar snap peas, or fennel and bean sprouts.  It's just about combining flavors that you like.

I will say that I really wanted some vibrant green in the dish, and bought a bag of frozen peas.  I love throwing in frozen peas at the end of a dish like this (or even a soup) because they become bright green and they add a really nice flavor.  And you know, every freakin' time I buy a bag of frozen peas, I always forget to pull them out of the freezer at the end.  Always.  It's inevitable.  I have 2 big bags of frozen peas in my freezer because I keep forgetting they're in there.  My controlling nature doesn't like it when I forget something so simple!!  :)

Despite the lack of peas, the combination of vegetables and chicken was great.  Honestly I had seen the fresh spring onions at Whole Foods the other day, and decided to make something using them, so this dish formed in my mind.  I also found a really nice Thai sweet pepper sauce that added just a touch of heat (small amount of heat for keith) - and still added my favorite Chinese sauce, Sambal (good amount of heat for me).  Here's my take, but mix it up!!

1 large carrot, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 spring onions, bulbs chopped & green stems sliced into discs
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 (or so) baby bella (or button) mushrooms, quartered
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut up into bite-size pieces
Thai Jasmine Rice (or your favorite - I made 1 cup dry rice in a rice cooker)
Soy Sauce
Thai Sweet Pepper Sauce
Sambal Oelek (to taste)
Salt & Pepper

Cook your rice however you prefer.  I think the best rice comes out of a rice cooker, and 1 cup dry rice with 2 cups water generally takes 20 - 25 minutes.

In a large pan, heat up the oil over medium-high and throw in the garlic.  Just as it starts to lightly brown, add the carrot, pepper and onion.  Add a pinch of salt and saute for 5-6 minutes until the carrots begin to soften.  Add the chicken and a few splashes of soy sauce.  Stir everything through and cook for another 5 minutes until the chicken starts to cook through.  Add the mushrooms and some Sweet Pepper Sauce, cook until the chicken is cooked through and the mushrooms begin to soften.

Take a couple of heaping mounds of rice and place them in a large mixing bowl (in my case, I split the entire thing in half for 2 portions).  Pour half the mixture over the rice and add any additional seasoning (salt or soy sauce, pepper and/or Sambal and any additional sweet pepper to taste).  Mix thoroughly with the rice, pour onto a plate and serve.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Sphere of Ice

keith got me these amazing ice trays that make big spheres of ice - they are PERFECT for those of us that enjoy a couple of fingers of 12 year old Scotch from time to time.  The shape of the ice allows it to melt a little slower, and therefore not dilute the precious, precious Scotch (by the way, my favorite is Macallan 12 year old).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rosemary Martini

I decided I wanted to start playing with some herbs - and vodka.  I have a bunch of rosemary that I dried in the kitchen, and I'm a huge fan of savory things.  So I poured about 6 oz. of vodka into a glass, and stuffed in a couple sprigs of rosemary.  I let the rosemary steep for about 24 hours (although I changed it out once - took out the old and put in new about half way through).  I threw in some juniper berries as well, but it's not worth it, the rosemary overpowers everything.

So what to do with this deliciously smelling vodka?  I went simple.  I poured the entire glass into a shaker with 2 sprays of vermouth (I use an olive oil spray bottle for my vermouth because I like it neat - my martini, that is) and some ice.  Shake, shake, shake - and into a martini glass with 2 large Spanish olives.  It's absolutely fantastic!!  I think I need to make a jar of rosemary vodka - I'm also thinking it will be great in Bloody Mary's.

I wonder what my next herb will be.  And yes, in case you're wondering, I'm enjoying the Rosemary Martini right this very second.  And while I couldn't be bothered to take a photo, at least I remembered to write about it.  :)


Ginger-French Martini

I picked up a bottle of Chambord thinking a French Martini might be nice.  Both of us decided it was lacking something, so I added a touch of Canton Ginger Liqueur.  Perfection.

3 oz. vodka
1 oz. chambord
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz canton ginger liqueur
Lemon twist

Combine the vodka, chambord, canton, and pineapple juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake, pour into a martini glass.  Twist the lemon over the drink and drop into the glass.

Breakfast Burrito

I love duck eggs - not sure if I've mentioned that.  I get them nearly every weekend at Whole Foods.  They are richer, thicker, denser, more delicious and than chicken eggs.  Generally I like to cook them so that the yolk is in tact, however I decided to scramble them for breakfast this weekend.  I opened the refrigerator and decided the best use of the things I had available would be a breakfast burrito.

Bacon makes every morning special
I also decided that in order to give the duck eggs their due, I wasn't going to scramble them in the traditional sense.  I usually drop the eggs in a bowl, throw in some salt & pepper and milk or cream, and whisk them until combined.  Yet with the duck eggs, I wanted some more texture to come through of the individual parts of the egg.  So, when it came time to throw them into the pan, I did it one by and used a fork to quickly break them apart as they began cooking.  It makes for a denser scrambled egg that is a bit "broken" in that you get parts of just whites and parts of just yolks.  I loved it!

Breakfast burrito filling
This is literally just something I threw together on the spot.  I happened to have some flour tortilla shells available - and you can substitute anything you like into the scramble.  So my recipe is simply a guideline or suggestion!

Breakfast Burrito

6 slices bacon
Olive oil
12 small links breakfast sausage, cut up into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons butter
6 duck eggs (scrambled, or done as suggested above)
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiana Reggiano Cheese, grated
4 large flour tortillas
Sour cream

Fry the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain.  In a pan, begin heating up the cut-up sausage in a little olive oil.  Once they are cooked through, add the butter and let it melt.  Stir in the eggs (or scramble them in one by one) and add a pinch of salt and some pepper.  As it begins to cook, stir in 3/4 cup cheddar cheese and all of the parmigiana.

Over medium-low heat, allow the eggs to cook through, stirring occasionally.  When the eggs are just firm but still a bit wet and everything is combined, crumble in 4 slices of cooked bacon and remove from heat.  Lay the tortilla shells out flat, and spoon equal amounts of the egg mixture onto each shell.  Roll them up like a burrito and place on a cookie sheet.  Evenly distribute the rest of the cheddar cheese over the top of each, and place them under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until the cheese melts.  Crumble the remaining bacon and crumble over top.  Add a dollop of sour cream over each burrito and enjoy.  A dollop of a fresh salsa might be nice as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chicken & Vegetables "in a bag"

This is another of my go-to comfort meals.  This past week was particularly stressful at work, and I was really looking forward to starting the weekend.  Although long before the meal was prepared, a certain person from a certain publishing company kicked off my weekend with a certain generous gesture.  You know who you are.  

Small creamery potatoes
The idea of this meal is that you can use any kind of vegetables you want.  Root vegetables work great because they can handle the roasting time in the oven.  And after not really eating much all day, and then swimming some laps at the YMCA, I was unfortunately shopping with my stomach and grabbed a LOT.

Cipollini Onions
So don't stick to my recipe - if, for instance, you're not a fan of cipollini onions, then cut them and use sugar snap peas instead.  If you can't find broccolini, use asparagus.  It's really whatever is available and whatever you think tastes great.  

"Bag" opened right out of the oven
The meal steams itself inside an aluminum foil "bag", so once the prep work is done, there's nothing to do but sit back and wait for the timer (although I tend to cook with my nose - specifically when something is in the oven - when you begin to really smell it, it's just about done).  And this is one of those recipes where a skinless, boneless breast of chicken turns out moist, delicious and full of flavor!

Ingredients (this is what I used for 2 bags, everything split in half for each bag)
1-2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts per bag (depending on the size, I used 2 small ones each)
1 bag small creamery potatoes, both red & white 
1 red bell pepper, chopped 
5 cipollini onions, whole (3 for me, 2 for my husband)
1 large carrot, chopped
10 small baby bella mushrooms, cleaned & whole
2 parsnips, peeled & chopped
1 bunch broccolini, whole
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 whole dried chiles (optional for added heat)
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
2 ice cubes
Optional:  2 tablespoons butter

First you need to prep your onions - since I always prefer cipollini onions whole (roasted by themselves they're even amazing), I always peel off as little of the skin as possible.  Drop them into some boiling water for 1-2 minutes until the skin starts to loosen, then pull them out and drop them into an ice water bath.  The skin should pull right off, and you'll have some lovely & naked onions.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  On a flat surface, lay out one large piece of aluminum foil.  In the center, sprinkle a little salt & pepper.  Place the chicken right in the center and sprinkle a little salt over the top.  Place 2 thyme sprigs on top of the chicken breast.  Begin piling on your vegetables - I like to put heavy root vegetables close to the chicken, and more delicate vegetables on top.  Here was the order I piled the vegetables (they will fall around the sides - just keep everything as contained on and around the chicken as best as possible): potatoes, red pepper, carrots, onions, mushrooms, parsnips, broccolini.  If you want to add the dried chiles, then simply place them in and around the mixture - no need to break them up, you'll get a hint of heat with them whole.  Drizzle olive oil over the mixture, and sprinkle with salt & pepper.  To allow for additional steam, I place 1 ice cube on top of the content in each bag.  You could, instead, use a small knob of butter for some additional flavor.

Fold the foil and roll it down to seal in the contents.  Make sure the sides are sealed as well.  Once the bag is sealed, I generally use another piece of foil to double-wrap the entire meal.  Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 50 minutes to an hour.  The vegetables should be tender, and the chicken should be cooked all the way through.  There will be a LOT of juice at the bottom, which you certainly want to capture and serve with the meal.  I serve this in a pasta bowl and it works great.  Pull out all of the contents (be careful of the steam when you first open the bag), and pour the juices over top.  As you're eating, be sure to pull out the thyme sprigs and dried chiles (if you used them).

A great addition to this would be whole (or halved) garlic cloves.  They would be delicious and would add great flavor.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Am I the only one?

I usually start thinking about dinner at some point during the morning. By the end of the afternoon I have a grocery list plotted out based on the various sections of the grocery store. Could I be alone in this? Surely not!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Dinner at Ditch Plains with Matt

Last night keith and I met up with our friend Matt.  Funny story - the three of us were cast in "Into the Woods" 7 years ago with Gallery Players in Bexley, Ohio.  That's actually where my husband and I met.  So it was a fun reunion with Matt.

Spicy Pork Meatballs
We managed to find some common time and picked a location (Matt coming from the Upper East Side; keith coming from Union Square; me coming from the Lower East Side) - Ditch Plains on Downing & Bedford.  We've always loved this restaurant, and the fact that they carry Hangar Vodka (lime infused!).

Crab Dip
Smoked Mozzarella & Ricotta Fritters
Over plates of appetizers and cocktails we caught-up and laughed.  Matt is full of stories, and available for hire to any casting directors that might read this.  :)  And I was so excited about the "special" burger (that just won a major burger award - really, no joke) that I forgot to grab a photo of it.  Needless to say, the cheddar "bun" and the vodka-spiked ketchup were delicious.  And what evening would be complete without deep fried snickers bars?  I mean, we're all Ohio boys at heart.

Deep Fried Snickers Bars

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Honey Tangerine & Ginger Martini

keith has a tiny, tiny cough - he didn't get enough sleep last weekend and is worried that the combination of lack of sleep and the disgusting weather might start wearing him down.  So I concocted a martini - strictly for medicinal use, you understand.  I wanted something with Vitamin C - and the Honey Tangerines called out to me.

I also thought some Ginger might be good, so I grabbed a bottle of Canton Ginger Liqueur.  The juice of 1/4 - 1/2 tangerine in a shaker, 3 parts vodka and 1 part Ginger liqueur.  Shake with ice, pour and serve.

Potato Soup

Potato soup is definitely one of my favorite comfort foods.  I remember Grandma cooking it for over the years as I was growing up.  I distinctly remember the oval shaped bowls she would serve it in, and how she'd pile a plate up with buttered bread that you could dip in the soup (because no meal is a meal with buttered bread according to Grandma).  And I also remember the day she taught me how to make it - in my Aunt's kitchen one sunny afternoon.  I was over energetic and made so much we had to split it into two pots!

I've made this soup for myself for many years.  I've shared the recipe and made it for friends and family.  And as much as my version of the soup has changed from the original - I still always think of Grandma.  Funnily though, I used to call her and tell her that I was making it, and she always responded with "okay."  Apparently it doesn't hold as much meaning to her as it does to me.  Haha! 

Grandma's potato soup was fairly straight-forward, lots of ham, onions, and carrots in a pot - bring to a boil, add a few things and seasonings and you're done.  Oh and she ALWAYS made drop biscuit batter (not homemade mind you, but Bisquick - and they were always great).  One of the first things I did away with was the drop biscuits.  They're really nice, but they fill me up too quickly and I'd much rather devour more of the soup.

The soup has become a staple for cold or unpleasant nights (both externally and internally).  And yesterday, with the rain/snow/sleet it was a perfect day for me to make a big pot of soup.  My recent version is a hybrid of potato soup and baked potato soup.  I made this version a couple of weeks ago (I know, so close together?  But it's cold!!) and keith raved about it - I think it was the addition of the sour cream. 

7 Russett potatoes, peeled and cut up into chunks
Olive oil
6 slices bacon (2 sliced cooked and reserved, 4 sliced chopped)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large, thick slice of ham (1/2" - 1" thick), cubed
Salt & Pepper
1 8oz container Sour Cream
2 Tbl. butter
1 bunch chives, chopped
2 Tbl. corn starch
Shredded Cheddar Cheese

Cook 2 slices of bacon until crispy.  Set aside to crumble over the soup before serving.  In a large pot (I used my Dutch Oven), pour 2 Tbl. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Throw in the chopped bacon and begin rendering off the fat.  When the bacon is getting crispy, throw in the onions, garlic and carrots.  Sprinkle with a little salt to bring out the moisture and help them begin to soften.  Cook for about 5-6 minutes until everything begins to soften.  Toss in the chopped ham and stir it in.  Cook this for 2 minutes or so just to bring the ham up to heat.  Throw in 5 of the chopped potatoes (this was something new I tried, I'll explain later).  Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, and then stir them into the mixture and let this cook for another 2-3 minutes to allow the potatoes to begin to break down.
(My goal is to have a good portion of the potatoes break way down in order to thicken the soup - but I also LOVE big chunks of fully cooked potatoes that are still something to bite into, so that's why I retain 2 of the potatoes and add them later).

Fill the pot with water, leaving at least an inch or more room from the top.  Raise the heat to high, and bring this to a boil.  I let it boil on high for about 10 minutes to really get the cooking process started.  While this is cooking, in a small bowl combine the corn starch with a few tablespoons of water and mix completely.  After 10 minutes on high,  add the remaining potatoes, a handful of chopped chives (retaining just enough to sprinkle over the top before serving), all of the sour cream (retaining 2 dollops for serving), the butter, pepper (to taste), and a handful of cheese.  Stir in the corn starch mixture (this is only a thickening agent).  Let this come back up to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30 - 40 minutes until all the potatoes are tender.  Very important - stir the soup OFTEN.  The combination of the corn starch and the cheese will cause things to stick to the bottom of the pot, and if you're not stirring every few minutes, you could get some burnt flavor.  Make sure to taste the soup for flavor - you might need to add some more salt and/or pepper.

Ladle the soup into big soup bowls (oval if you have them!).  Sprinkle some cheese over top, then crumble one slice of bacon over each bowl.  Add a dollop of sour cream in the center, and sprinkle with chives.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Craving time, last night.  It comes on all at once, and I'm powerless to resist.  And with Arturo's Restaurant on speed dial - why would I resist?  Maybe it was the Midwestern boy in me...maybe it was the glutton in me...but I wanted chicken wings.  So I got chicken wings.  Crunchy, friend, and delicious!  But not to fret - there was enough Greek Salad leftover (seriously, I made WAY too much) to add something fresh to the mix.

Seriously, don't these look amazing?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Email and Some Thoughts

I got a great email from a new reader, Holly.  She's going through some kitchen renovations (crock pot and toaster oven only...I feel for her), and wanted some suggestions for food inspiration.  So Holly, here's my lengthy, wordy, exhaustive, I do enjoy talking about food and things related to food, don't I?

My inspiration varies constantly.  There was a period when I was really into the magazine Food & Wine - but (not to sound too negative) it feels so pretentious anymore, and I let my subscription expire.  I've gotten some good ideas from Cooks Illustrated.  But honestly I get most of my inspiration from television programs.  Leaving aside shows like Top Chef (yes, I try to do Quickfire challenges where I have to get everything from the farmer's market and make a delicious breakfast in 1/2 hour...haha), I'm a HUGE fan of the Cooking Channel.   Food Network has gone awry for me for the last few years, so I was really glad when they created the Cooking Channel (oddly enough, it's labeled as the channel for people who like to cook...wasn't that what Food Network used to be?).  The channel is running a lot of old shows - like Mario Batali, even Julia Child, and most recently Jamie Oliver.  I love watching the food being made, and I find that it inspires me a great deal to want to create versions of my own.  Also both Food Network and Cooking Channel have great search availability for recipes - and I often think of something I want, find 2 or 3 versions, and then mush them up together to find the best alternative for myself.
That being said I have a huge library of cookbooks.  And if you're in the neighborhood for something completely overwhelming (in a good way), I recommend these two:
The Professional Chef (this is the text book for many culinary students)  
On Food & Cooking
These aren't your traditional cookbooks.  While there are oodles of recipes in each, they both delve into the history of food, taste, and technique.  The Professional Chef taught me how to properly break down a whole chicken in just a few minutes (Mario Batali taught me how to perfect that even further by leaving a chunk of the breast attached to the separated it's not just a wing!).
I just realized I've been going on and on - as I tend to do when it comes to the subject of food.  Ask me about some of my favorite places to eat in NYC and I'll never shut up!  Not sure if I actually answered your question or not, but I greatly appreciate you reaching out.

Egg Noodles with Pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano

Mise en place - I just wanted to throw that out there.  It simply means "everything in place."  And it's in my nature to be organized and as efficient as possible.  So you'll never find me scrambling for ingredients when I'm cooking.  I always have my mise en place in place before I begin.  :)

Yesterday was cold and wet here in NYC, so I wanted something warm and hearty for dinner.  My first thought was a noodle dish with maybe some spicy chorizo - unfortunately, I didn't lay my hands on any chorizo.  So instead I opted for some thick slabs of pancetta, diced and cooked until crispy.  And I knew the "sauce" for my pasta was going to basically consist of the pancetta fat, a bit of olive oil, butter, and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  At the last minute I decided to throw in some garlic (GREAT addition) and some sun-dried tomatoes (delicious - however next time I think I'll go with fresh cherry or grape tomatoes thrown into the heat during the last 2-3 minutes of cooking).  Looking back, some fresh parsley would have been a nice addition as well.  Yet it's not like I'm complaining, we both nearly licked the pasta bowls clean!

1/2 pound thick sliced pancetta, cut into cubes
1 package egg noodles
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thin (or fresh cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano

First a note - because of the pancetta and cheese, this dish does NOT need any additional salt (and surprisingly, not even in the pasta water).  Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.  The bag of pasta I used suggested a cooking time of 6 - 9 minutes.  As a rule, I always use the minimum suggested time, and subtract at least a minute so that I can finish cooking the pasta in the pan with the sauce.  So I cooked mine for only 5 minutes.

In a large saute pan, heat up the pancetta with a small amount of olive oil.  Cook until the pancetta starts to brown & crisp nicely.  Add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes (if using fresh, wait to add these for another minute or so).  Cook for 3 minutes to soften them both.  Toss the butter into the pan and melt completely.  Drain the pasta (if you don't have a pan that allows you to retain your pasta water, make sure to save a bit in case you need it), and drop the pasta into the pan with the sauce.  Sprinkle with pepper, and stir through to finish cooking the pasta, and to make sure the sauce is evenly distributed.  Pour in the grated cheese as you're stirring - at this point the cheese started to make the dish thick, so I spooned in about 1/2 cup of pasta water to thin it out a bit.  Pour the pasta into a pasta bowl, and shave a bit of cheese over the top.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

Okay, here's my confession - I love chicken breasts.  I know they aren't as full of flavor as some other parts of the bird.  I also know they have a tendency to be dry.  But they're so meaty and delicious if done right!  A number of my off-the-top-of-my-head meals include chicken breast (chicken in a "bag" with steamed vegetables, to name just one).  So last night when I started thinking of something that would go with the rest of the HUGE Greek salad I had left, I thought of doing something with a chicken breast.

I bought a whole breast (if I'm roasting it, I greatly prefer the breast to have both bone and skin - even if I don't eat the's all about flavor).  I preheated the oven to about 350, and then loosened the skin all over the breast with my fingers.  And then I stuffed probably 2 ounces of Mediterranean-herbed Goat cheese under the skin on each side of the breast.  A little olive oil, salt & pepper on top, and into the oven for about 45 minutes.

The breast came out juicy, with a crispy skin.  And the herbs in the goat cheese added a PUNCH of flavor.  The perfect addition to the Greek Salad.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Greek Salad - it's what's for dinner

I was inspired to make a Greek Salad for dinner tonight.  Mostly because when I grabbed that beautiful loaf of crunchy & chewy bread from Sullivan Street Bakery, I immediately tried to think of ways to use it.  And I recently saw an episode of Jamie Oliver's show "Jamie does" (where he travels to countries around the UK and explores food) - he was in Greece, and did his version of a Greek salad.  Into the salad:  chunks of bread.  I've never done that before, but I knew I needed to try it.

Usually my Greek salad just has all the usual suspects:  red onion, feta cheese, pepper, cucumber, kalamata olives, etc.  And everything is chopped to roughly the same size.  Now when I say 'chopped' I do not mean cute little bits where you can get some of everything on one little fork.  Heck no, this is a mouthy and mouthful of a salad - big, honkin' chunks that you have to bite into and really savor.  This time around, thanks to Jamie, I added not only the bread, but some fresh dill.  And instead of red wine vinegar, I found some amazing Zinfandel Vinegar that was just a beautiful accent to the dish.  So here's the way I made it tonight for dinner.  Note, this easily could serve 3-4 people (I have 2 full dishes of this left in the fridge for lunch tomorrow...and let me tell you, it's going to be even BETTER after sitting overnight!).

4 thick slices of good, crunchy-crust bread, cut up into pieces
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 English cucumber (with the skin), chopped
1 small red onion, sliced
1 1/2 cup whole & pitted kalamata olives
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 small handful of fresh dill, torn apart by hand
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
Zinfandel Vinegar (red wine vinegar is perfect as well)
1 block (about a cup) of good Feta cheese, broken apart by hand

In a large bowl, toss in the bread chunks, peppers, cucumber, onion, olives, tomatoes, dill and some salt & pepper.  Give it a toss to mix things together (honestly, best and easiest way to mix something like this is with your two clean hands - so get in there!).  Olive oil and vinegar are completely to taste - so start by adding maybe 1/4 cup olive oil and 3 tablespoons of vinegar, mix, taste, and add more if you need.  I tend to go a little heavy on the vinegar because it tastes so darn good.  And remember, that bread is going to start soaking up the oil & vinegar, so don't be afraid of it.  But don't over-dress - you don't want a pool of olive oil at the bottom of the bowl.  Also taste to check balance of salt & pepper - add more if necessary.

Break feta up over top, mix it in gently so that it doesn't all mush up together.  Grab big handfuls and plop them into the center of a plate.  Sprinkle a little fresh dill and drizzle a touch of olive oil over the top to finish.

Decanted Red Wine is Sexy

2009 Beaujolais - gorgeous, and delicious

Post-Work, Pre-Weekend Snack

I went on the hunt for large sardines, and couldn't find any.  So instead, I grabbed some gorgeous smoked salmon.  I wanted a little mini-celebration to start the weekend off just right, even though it's just me and the dog at home right now.

I got a loaf of bread from Sullivan Street Bakery (Whole Foods finally starting carrying their bread - this is their signature loaf - chewy, crusty, bready heaven) and sliced some VERY thin slices.  I then made a little sauce out of sour cream, fresh dill, lemon juice, white pepper, and capers.  I layered the salmon onto the bread, sprinkled over some thinly sliced red onion, and then topped with the sour cream sauce.  NOW the weekend can begin.


My husband started a new job last week.  And this week, he's working until 1am tonight, and all day on Saturday.  So the weather is grand, and I'll be all by myself.  Of course, I have a 3 hour midterm to take for my Economics class...and I have a bunch of work to do on my Senior Thesis/Project for my Masters Degree...but what I really want to do is relax!

I ran over to Discovery Wines again (near Houston & Ave. A).  They started carrying my favorite go-to white: "From the Tank"  The owner explained to me that the company went with a different grape and fermentation process this year, so it's even better.  I also picked up a bottle of Prosecco and a Beaujolais (based on his recommendation).  Let's get this weekend started!!

St. Patrick's Day (-ish) Dinner: Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie became known as Shepherds Pie in the late 1800's, and technically it's not Irish, but English.  However here in the states, it's served in every Irish Pub I've every been to!  So despite the fact that gay people (like me and my husband) are BANNED from the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade, I still commemorated the day in my own way - with food.  Oh - and beer.  I know, you're thinking Guinness.  But I went in search of Caffrey's and couldn't find it so instead I tried something new:  O'hara's Irish Red.

I spent some time researching Shepherds Pie, and even some old-world Cottage Pie recipes.  Glaringly, lamb was the meat of choice.  And nearly every recipe called for a can of beef gravy, which I found greatly disappointing.  Bravely, I figured "hey, I can make gravy."  I also opted to make the dish with small chunks of lamb shoulder instead of ground meat.  And I love the pairing of rosemary with lamb, so that was an obvious decision (although a few recipes suggested marjoram - I went with my own plan for rosemary).

So here's my take on Cottage Pie, and I apologize in advance - while the dish was creamy, satisfying, comforting and delicious, it's not easy to photograph.  And I was so darn hungry by the time it was ready, I was in no mood to fuss over the perfect photo.  :) 

I must confess, I was quite pleased with my gravy.  Here's the delicious brown goodness mixed in with everything else.

And finally:

1 lb. russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter

1 boneless lamb shoulder (3-4 pounds)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons butter
3 cups beef stock
Salt & Pepper
Healthy splash of Irish Whiskey
1 1/2 cup Shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 white onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, chopped
Worcestershire (1 - 4 dashes, per taste)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Peel & chop the potatoes, cook for 15 - 20 minutes until tender.  Drain, add 3 tablespoons butter & salt - mash potatoes.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut up the lamb shoulder into 1-inch pieces (bite size - you don't want to have to use a knife when eating this meal).  In a large saute pan, heat olive oil (medium-high heat).  Fill a small bowl with flour and coat each piece of lamb in flour before dropping in the hot oil.  Sear the lamb - make sure you brown the pieces all around.  If you move them too much initially, or too often the lamb will look gray and dull.  I did this in 2 batches to avoid over-crowding the pan.  Remove the lamb to a plate and set aside. 

The pan should have bits of fried lamb and some liquid left behind.  This will all go into the gravy.  Remove the pan from the flame of the stove, and off the heat, pour in a shot of whiskey.  As you move the pan back to the stove, tip it slightly so that the flame catches the liquor to create a flambe.  It shouldn't take long at all for the liquor to cook off, leaving a hint of the whiskey flavor behind.  Add the 3 tablespoons of butter to the pan, and lower the heat to medium.  Stir the butter around and remove the chunks and pieces of meat stuck around the pan.  Once melted, add 1/4 cup flour and stir together.  This will turn into a thick paste - let it cook for a minute or so in this form.  Then slowly begin adding the beef stock.  As you add stock, stir it in until the liquid is fully incorporated.  You may not use all 3 cups of stock, or you might actually want a little more.  3 cups made the perfect consistency for the gravy, in my opinion.  Make sure to season the gravy with salt & pepper - taste after each batch of stock is incorporated.  Once you're satisfied with the consistency and the flavor, pour the gravy into a bowl and set aside.

Wipe the pan clean, and add 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Over medium high heat, add the sliced mushrooms.  Saute for 4-5 minutes until the mushrooms are softened, but retaining their shape.  Remove and set aside.  Add a splash more olive oil to the pan, and toss in the chopped onion, carrots and garlic.  Add a pinch of salt to start these breaking down, and saute for 5 -7 minutes until the carrots begin to soften.  Add the rosemary, lamb meat, mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce, stir through and cook for 2-3 minutes to bring everything back up to heat.  Add the gravy, combine well, and bring to a bubble.

Pour the mixture into an 8x8 baking dish (I had a bit leftover which went to the dog...lucky dog), and top with mashed potatoes.  Smooth the potatoes over and make sure to cover every bit of the meat mixture.  Place dish on a baking sheet, and place it in the oven.  The baking sheet is essential - mine bubbled over a bit and if it hadn't been for the sheet I would have been scrubbing my oven today.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  Spoon out and enjoy.