Friday, May 30, 2008


Italian Pork Strike Imminent!

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comfort food requires cheese

And the more different kinds of cheese, the better. No one can argue with a cheesy beefy pasta dish when you're feeling cranky. And believe it or not, this version of Baked Rigatoni is not as bad for you as it looks. It's still not good for you, but there's more fiber!

See, this article in the New York Times agrees that whole wheat pasta has come a long way in the last few years. And that article is already 3 years old, I think whole wheat pasta is even betterer now! Tender, flavorful, and not as far from regular pasta as it used to be. So nowadays, I'd say I use whole wheat pasta in place of regular about 75% of the time. I don't think J-Cat even notices.

I also used part-skim cheeses, not just for health reasons, but because I prefer less grease in general. Same for extra lean ground beef. There's not really any need for fattier beef in this dish because there is plenty of richness from the three cheeses. So go for the cheesy pasta dish, every now and then, and don't feel so bad about it. You're cranky, and you deserve it. Recipe after the jump:

1 lb whole wheat rigatoni
1 lb extra lean ground beef (at least 90% lean)
2 tsps olive oil
3 cups marinara sauce (homemade or jarred)
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups part-skim mozarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than the package suggests. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the beef, salt and pepper it liberally, and brown lightly. Add the marinara sauce and lower to simmer. Let simmer a few minutes until sauce is warmed through and beef is cooked. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Add the ricotta and parmesan and toss to mix well. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Top with the mozzarella and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and starting to brown.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

super simple sides: tabouleh

The only thing you need to heat up when making tabouleh is some water for the bulgur. It's just too easy. Super fresh, super delicious, I can eat it straight out of the bowl, or I can be civilized and serve it as a side. I actually ran out of parsley for this one, so it was heavy on the grain and light on the herbs, but it was tasty. The acidity was very helpful in cutting the richness of the Kafta. As with the previous two recipes, I'm not really sure how authentic my version is, it was just my closest approximation based on previously having eaten tons and tons of this stuff. Recipe after the jump:

1/2 cup bulgur wheat
2 bunches flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the bulgur and cover with plastic wrap for 20 to 25 minutes until bulgur is tender. Drain off any excess liquid and fluff with a fork. Toss with chopped herbs, tomato and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the tabouleh and toss to coat evenly. Can be served at room temperature or chilled.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

five ingredients or less: mujadarrah

It's not much to look at, but the classic Lebanese Mujadarrah is one of my favorite dishes. It works as a side, but also as a vegetarian main course, and it's reasonably healthy in the grand scheme of things. I paired this the other night with the Kafta, which was quite fatty. This is also a recipe that seems to be difficult to screw up, since I messed every step up and it still turned out pretty well. I didn't start with enough water, then overcooked the lentils, then oversalted it, then overcooked the rice. It was kind of a mushy mess in the end, but we still ate it. A ton of it. The best part is the subtle sweetness from the onions, which goes so nicely with the meatiness of the lentils. I was guesstimating amounts, for the most part, so I apologize for the vagueness of the recipe, but like I said, it's hard to really screw this up. Recipe after the jump:

4 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 cup green lentils
1/2 cup long grain white rice
salt and pepper, to taste

Place lentils in a medium sauce pan and add enough lightly salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer about 10 minutes. Add the rice and additional water, if necessary, to just cover. Return to a boil, then again reduce to a simmer and cover for about 15-20 minutes, until rice and lentils are tender but not mushy.

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until rice and lentils are cooked. Mix about 2/3 of the onions into the lentil and rice mixture, then top with the remaining onions to serve.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

sunday supper: kafta bi sanniyeh

I used to think that you couldn't make Kafta without a grill, but then I discovered Kafta bi Sanniyeh, also known as a Lebanese Lamb Pie. It's basically a lamb meatloaf, with potatoes ringing the edges. It could not be any easier, and it's the perfect solution for someone who loves them some Kafta, but lives in the city with no outdoor space. You do have to be prepared for some serious fattiness, though.

I think I patted my lamb loaf a bit too much, as looking at a couple of photos shows much more lumpiness. The lumpiness is probably a good idea since more raised edges presumably results in more browned bits, always a good thing.

Considering that I didn't have much of a recipe and was somewhat blindly adding ingredients without measuring anything, I was really happy with the result. I'm guessing this is something you can't really screw up. Next time I'd add more mint, perhaps. I even forgot to grease the pan, but the lamb was so fatty it didn't matter at all. It also seems like you should leave space around the edges of the meat to rest the potatoes in, but I didn't bother and it didn't matter. As the meat cooked, it shrank away from the sides, dropping the potatoes into the rendered lamb fat and roasting them perfectly. One recipe even called for parboiling the potatoes first, but I don't think that's necessary at all. Just cut them small and they will be perfect. I served the Kafta with another classic Lebanese dish - Mujadarrah, lentils and rice. Then I decided to use the rest of the parsley and mint from the Kafta in a Tabouleh, which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for cutting the richness of the lamb. Those recipes will follow shortly, the Kafta recipe is after the jump:

2 lbs ground lamb
1 large white onion, cut into chunks
2 C fresh parsley
1/2 C fresh mint leaves
1/2 C bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
8 baby potatoes

In a food processor, combine the onion, parsley, and mint and pulse until finely minced but not liquid. Add the mixture to the lamb with the bread crumbs, egg, spices, salt and pepper. Mix well, then store covered in the refridgerator for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to come together.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Turn out the meat mixture in to a large round casserole or pan. Pat the meat down to about 1 inch thickness all around. Halve the potatoes and lay around the edges of the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, then lower to 250 for another 30-40 minutes until meat and potatoes are golden brown and cooked through.

[NOTE: If you are lucky enough to own a grill, you can use this recipe for Kafta Kebabs. Just leave out the bread crumbs and the egg, press the meat onto metal skewers, and grill away.]

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Look what J-Cat got me for my birthday!

I've been wanting a mandolin for so long! It's a Fender and it's much nicer than what I would have gotten for myself. Now I just have to figure out how to play it. There are a lot of strings. And the pick. And frets. Hmmmm. He broke out his guitar and we started to play...absolutely nothing together.

PS. I know I haven't posted in a while, but I sadly haven't had time to cook lately. But stay tuned because this weekend there are interesting goodies coming up.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

five ingredients or less: baci di dama

Is it just me, or is there something menacing about the cookies in this picture?

That all seem to be staring at me, daring me to eat them, a disapproving glare headed in my direction. They certainly don't look as sweet as they actually are. These Baci di Dama - or Lady's Kisses - are Italian shortbread-style sandwich cookies from Piemonte that I saw on Molto Mario a couple of weeks ago. They are exceedingly simple to make; they look a lot more complicated than they are. A whiz in the food processor is all it takes to make the basic cookie, leaving you with a bowl full of what appears to be grainy sand:

I was a little wary that this extremely dry mixture would never form solid cookies, but a good press into a round measuring spoon made a perfect cookie shape:

And the quick bake further solidified matters, though the result was a bit harder to the tooth than I would have liked. I may throw an egg yolk in there next time:

Some melted bittersweet chocolate brought two cookies together as one kiss, and the quiet cookie judgment began:

I think he's a little unhappy with me. Recipe after the jump:


1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Combine the almonds, sugar, flour and butter in a food processor and pulse until uniform. The mixture will be dry and sandy. Using a round 1 tbsp measuring spoon, press the mixture into the spoon to make a half round. Place the formed cookies on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just starting to brown lightly. Remove and allow to cool completely.

When the cookies are cool, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or the microwave. Spoon a small amount of chocolate onto the flat side of a cookie and spread a thin layer evenly. Sandwich the flat side of a second cookie to the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to set before serving.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

comfort of all comforts: pork fried rice

For me, there is no greater comfort food than fried rice. I find myself thinking quite a lot about it these last few days, as we approach the one-year anniversary of my father's death. He once told me that the way to know if a Chinese cook was really any good was to taste his fried rice.He was a true master of fried rice. It was the dish that he always made for me, he knew how much I loved it. Family meals were not complete without it, and he always made extra for me to take home. I miss his fried rice. Of course, mine does not really compare, but I'm working on it.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

when one milk is not enough: pastel de tres leches

There is a Mexican diner down the street from our place which is a culinary revelation in several ways. The first was the discovery of the torta, that pinnacle of sandwich amazingness. There is no place that makes a better torta, with incredible fresh baked bread. Another is their tres leches cake, layered slices sitting in a pool of milkiness. This cake changed my mind about cake. Because 90% of the time I find cake to be too dry, but it simply cannot happen when the cake is soaked to saturation in a delicious concoction of three different milks. When I found that Alton Brown had done a Tres Leches cake on a Good Eats episode, I decided that I had to attempt it. His recipe calls for baking a single sheet cake in a 9x13 pan, but I thought I'd try to replicate the layer cake at Grand Morelos, spreading jam between the layers. As you can see from the photos, this did not happen.

The first few steps went fine, though I had to keep a close eye while the cake was baking, knowing that the timing would be off since I was using two 9-inch round cake pans instead of one 9x13 pan. It probably could have come out a couple of minutes earlier than it eventually did, but no damage was done. I also only had about 4 hours of soaking time, when Alton called for at least 8 for maximum saturation.

But it seems that four hours was fine, as you can see that the puddle of milk was completely absorbed. The trouble came in trying to unseat the layers. I knew that it would be no easy task to take one milk saturated cake layer and get it on top of the other, but I didn't even get an opportunity to attempt it. They wouldn't budge. Despite greasing and flouring both pans - non-stick pans no less - neither layer would leave its vessel, it just wasn't going to happen. So instead we had two single-layer cakes and no place for jam. It was still yummy in all it's milky goodness, with just the whipped cream icing, but I was bummed. I hardly ever make cakes and this is why. They never turn out how I want them to. The recipe itself was reasonably easy to do, though despite my cutting the amount of sugar in the icing in half it was still really really sweet. I think the recipe could use a sugar reduction in every element - the cake, the glaze (less sweetened condensed milk), and the icing. Note that the amounts in the recipe are by weight, not volume, you really need a scale to bake properly. For example, 6 3/4 ounces ends up being about a cup and a half, not .8 cups. If you don't have a scale, you will end up with a dense log of cake, don't do it! On the upside, it's much easier to measure stuff like flour and sugar with a scale, just keep pouring until you reach the desired amount, no scooping or leveling necessary. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from I have adjusted the sugar in this recipe, for the original, go here.

For the cake:
Vegetable oil
6 3/4 ounces cake flour, plus extra for pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces sugar
5 whole eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup half-and-half

For the topping:
2 cups heavy cream
2 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour a 13 by 9-inch metal pan or two 9-inch round pans and set aside.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

Place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Decrease the speed to low and with the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar over 1 minute. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and mix to thoroughly combine. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Add the flour mixture to the batter in 3 batches and mix just until combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly. This will appear to be a very small amount of batter. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes (18-20 minutes if making 2 rounds) or until the cake is lightly golden and reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F.

Remove the cake pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Poke the top of the cake all over with a skewer or fork. Allow the cake to cool completely and then prepare the glaze.

For the glaze:
Whisk together the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and the half-and-half in a 1-quart measuring cup. Once combined, pour the glaze over the cake. Refrigerate the cake overnight, or for at least 4 hours.

Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk together on low until stiff peaks are formed. Change to medium speed and whisk until thick. Spread the topping over the cake and allow to chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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pollo papantla: creamsicle chicken?

Upon reading this article in last week's NY Times Dining & Wine section, I knew I had to try this recipe. And what better time to try a recipe from Veracruz than on Cinco de Mayo? (Okay, it was actually Quatro de Mayo, but that meant I could post about it on the actual Cinco de Mayo.) Anyway, this recipe from famed NY restaurateur Zarela Martinez features chicken legs in a sauce containing orange juice and vanilla. Huh? Like a creamsicle? Vanilla in a savory setting seems to be fashionable right now, I've heard of poaching lobsters in vanilla butter, or making a vanilla sabayon for a meat dish. But I've never actually tried it, and it still seemed incongruous in my head.

The method was essentially the same as your typical fricasee, searing the legs, then throwing in the sauce and setting on a low simmer until reduced and tender. The result was a gorgeous shiny glaze, peppered with the vanilla beans. It was certainly a sweet sauce, but not cloyingly so. The touch of acidity from the vinegar plus the heat from the cayenne pepper offered just the right balance. This was an exceedingly simple dish with surprising flavors, definitely a winner. I added a fair amount of cayenne pepper since we like spicy food, but I wish the article had talked about the actual peppers used in Veracruz. One of these days I'd like to make this dish the way it is actually done in Mexico. Recipe after the jump:

From The New York Times April 30, 2008

6 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, Japanese rice vinegar, or other mild-flavored vinegar
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice
1 vanilla bean, split
A few sprigs of cilantro, for garnish
Cooked rice or tortillas for serving (optional).

1. Season chicken with the salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces skin side down, and brown until golden on both sides, turning once, 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

2. When chicken is browned, pour off any excess fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Sprinkle cayenne and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper over chicken, turning pieces to coat evenly. Taste a pinch of the skin, and add more cayenne if additional heat is desired. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add vinegar, butter and orange juice. Scrape in pulp of vanilla bean and add bean. Stir liquid to blend.

3. Cook chicken skin side up, uncovered, basting occasionally with sauce, until sauce is reduced to a syrupy glaze, 20 to 25 minutes. If interior of chicken needs further cooking (it should be 170 degrees when tested in center with an instant-read thermometer), cover and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or as needed. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot, with rice or tortillas, if desired.

Yield: 2 to 3 servings.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

oh sandwich, my sandwich

This is just an ode to a noble sandwich.

You take just minutes to make, you have only 6 ingredients.

But you're so much more complex than you seem.

The holy trinity: Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil. Amen.

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