making food from anywhere, with anything

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in under an hour.

Hello everyone.

Today is the last day of the semester, and yesterday was a farewell party (of sorts) for one of my classes.  We all had to bring food, and while most people brought doritos or out-of-the-box brownies (which were really chewy, and not in a good way), I decided to make somewhat of a meal.

I called it paella, even though it bares little resemblance to an authentic paella.  Especially since I made it in less than an hour right before class.  Perhaps I should call this “chicken and rice,” rather than paella.

hot off the stove

Excuse this, but I have to:  Someone in my class took it upon themselves to remind me that paella is usually made with seafood.  So, I returned the advice (?) by telling her that when there is a meat involved, paella is traditionally made with rabbit (or chicken, or really, whatever you have on hand…as paella is what would be called a “peasant dish” because any and all ingredients available go into it).  This only provoked another snarky comment regarding the paella she had when she was in Spain, and I resolved to let her rant because it clearly made her feel better to put down the food that I busted my ass to make before class.  I just want to say, I know what I made isn’t authentic paella, but I did put effort into what I brought.  I left work an hour early to make it.   When she learns how to make proper, not-soggy deviled eggs (they were so soggy, they fell apart..no exaggeration), she can come to me with paella instructions.

Now that that little story is out of the way, I’d have to say that the chicken and rice came out pretty well.  The chicken was especially flavorful because I threw it in a marinade the night before.  It involved red wine vinegar, cilantro, bay leaves, pepper and lots of paprika.  What the exact proportions of all the ingredients were, I’ll never know.  If you want to make an authentic paella, I advise you to go here. It is the most authentic recipe I’ve yet to find, and I’ve been searching for months.  I really ought to invest in a paella pan…perhaps I’ll add that to my ever-growing summer “to do” list.

Anyway, that takes care of my chicken and rice inventory.  Now, all I have left in the freezer are some miscellaneous berries, two chicken drumsticks, and two pork chops.  Plus an assortment of leftover pork, “paella,” and spanakoptia.  Will this tide me over until Monday night?   Perhaps, especially since I need to use up the last of my spaghetti.  It will be interesting…

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Macadamia nuts are native to Australia. And are toxic to dogs.

Good evening everyone.

It’s been a few days, but I’ve been trying to clear away my leftovers.

Tonight was pork night.  Slow, deliciously roasted pork loin chops.  No knife needed.

tender, juicy pork

Ingredients:

2 pork loin chops

1/2 cup beef stock (home made preferably)

1/2 cup red wine

1 overflowing spoonful of creme fraiche

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

4 sprigs of thyme

salt and pepper

dried parsley (use your judgment)

5 or 6 small gold potatoes, cubed

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled

olive oil & butter

Method:

1. preheat oven to 350F and chop, smash, season, etc. everything to get it out of the way.

2. rinse and pat dry the pork chops.  season generously with salt and pepper.

3. in a saute pan with sides, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.  once the butter’s foam subsides, sear the pork on both sides so a nice, brown crust forms.  remove when done.

4. in the leftover fat, add onion and saute for about 2-3 minutes.  add the garlic, thyme, dried parsley and beef stock.  simmer for 2-3 minutes.

5.  add dollop of creme fraiche and stir until melted completely.  taste and add salt and pepper as needed (you should probably just make it a habit to taste your food constantly…and use a different spoon every time you do)

6. simmer for 1 minute, then add the red wine.  simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the alcohol has cooked out.

7.  add pork to a small roasting pan.  pour liquid over chops, and add potatoes to the pan.  cover the pan with foil and put in the oven for 2-2 1/2 hours.  After one hour, flip the pork.  After 2 hours, check the pork.  If you can pierce it easily with a fork, it’s done (the fork should really melt into the meat with little to no force on your behalf).

slow cooked pork in a creamy red wine sauce

I’ve got the beginnings of a cold right now, and this was one of the best comfort-food dishes for it.  It wasn’t too heavy, it was nourishing (pork is always good for the soul), and the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender.  It was practically falling apart as I sliced into it with the fork.  UGH, SO GOOD.  The creme fraiche added a whole other level to the sauce.  It lightened it up while thickening it.  So savory, so good.  I could’ve eaten 5 more chops like this.  The potatoes were perfectly cooked.  They just absorbed all the delicious flavors of the pork, beef stock, creme fraiche, red wine, garlic….everything.  Delicious.  It seems like 2 hours, in my oven, was the perfect amount of time.  I encourage you to braise things.  Yes, these dishes take hours, but come on…I got all my laundry done in the meantime.  Plus, your house will smell SO GOOD.

what do you do with extra phyllo?

Good morning, everyone.  Yes, a morning post.

Yesterday I tried to use up all my remaining phyllo dough by making a version of spanakopita.  However, I had some left over sheets of dough…probably about 6-7 sheets.  What to do with it?  Make more spanakopita?  No.  Already have way too many leftovers.  Make baklava?  Close, but no.  I have none of the necessary ingredients.

After scrounging around my refrigerator, I noticed I had an unopened container of creme fraiche and some pumpkin butter.  What an interesting combination…

phyllo triangles with creme fraiche and pumpkin butter filling

Drizzled very lightly with honey, these triangles make a nice dessert…..or breakfast.

Ingredients:

phyllo dough

olive oil (or unsalted butter, whatever you prefer)

pumpkin butter

creme fraiche

*by the way, when working with phyllo, it always helps to lay it out on a baking sheet or other flat surface, covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel.  it keeps the dough from drying out, which is very important*

Method:

1. preheat oven to 350F.

2.  lay out one sheet of phyllo and brush the top with olive oil (or your fat of choice).  lay another sheet on top.  repeat the process until you have 3-4 sheets.

3. vertically, cut about 2 1/2 – 3 inch wide strips.  at the top of each strip, add maybe……2 tsp of creme fraiche and 2 tsp of pumpkin butter.  fold as you would a flag (i posted a youtube video on how to do this in an earlier post)

4. continue this process until you’ve used up all your dough.

5.  line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and place all the triangles on.  throw in the oven and bake until the triangles are golden brown.  i’d say…about 15-30 minutes depending on your oven.  just keep an eye on them.

a breakfast treat

The creme fraiche and pumpkin butter turned out to be a really good combination.  It sort of tasted like a creamier pumpkin pie wrapped in buttery phyllo.  You can fill these with anything, though, to make them either sweet or savory.  I had some last night fresh out of the oven and they were so crunchy and gooey.  This morning, I had some that had been in the refrigerator.  They weren’t as gross as I thought they would be.  In fact, the filling hardened slightly, and it was actually really enjoyable (at the expensive of the phyllo’s crunch).  Drizzled with honey, it was a perfect pastry-esque breakfast to have with some good coffee (I would’ve preferred an espresso, but whatever).

The average Australian will consume 18 beef cattle and 90 sheep in his or her lifetime.

Hello everyone.

Yet another fun fact about Australia and food.   I sense a trend…anyone who guesses what sparked my latest obsession with Australia gets a prize.  Seriously, I’ll mail you something food related (disclaimer: this doesn’t count for people who already know the answer)!

Tonight, I decided to use the rest of my frozen phyllo dough.  It’s been in the freezer since February, and I was afraid it was just going to dry out if I kept it in there longer.

So, after consulting this very good site about the basics of spanakopita, I decided to go my own way about it.  For those unfamiliar with Greek cuisine, spanakopita is a spinach pie made with phyllo dough as the crust.  I’ve always been too intimidated to make this, but once you get the hang of working with the dough, it’s really easy.  Really.

a different sort of spanakopita

Ingredients:

1/2 bag of spinach, chopped

1/2 cup of feta, crumbled

1/3 cup marscapone

2 eggs, lightly beaten

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

phyllo dough

other herbs like dill, parsley, or even onions.  you can really put what ever *fresh* herbs you want into this, it’s a blank canvas.  i just had nothing on hand.

Method:

(preheat oven to 350F)

1. mix the spinach, feta, marscapone, salt and pepper in a bowl.  (frustrated because the marscapone is sticking to the spoon you’re haplessly abusing your mix with?  well, the only solution is to use your hands.  sure, it may be gross or…icky, even.  sure, it may make a nasty squishing sound when you dive your hands in.  but, it’s the best method.)

2. brush bottom of an 8×8 (or 9×11, whatever you have) pan with olive oil.

3. place a sheet of phyllo in the pan.  brush the top of it with olive oil.  put another sheet on top of that, and repeat this process until you have 6-8 layers.

4.  place the spinach mixture on top of the phyllo dough layers in the pan.  spread it around evenly.

5.  plae another sheet of phyllo on top of the spinach mixture, and brush with olive oil.  place another sheet on top of that, and repeat this process until you have another 6-8 layers.

6.  bake  until the top is a golden brown, for about 30-50 minutes.

This was so good!  Next time, I will definitely add the fresh herbs because it lacked a little bit of flavor.  However, the marscapone made the filling pretty creamy, which was very pleasant.  Yes, pleasant.

# # There are more than 150 million sheep in Australia, and only some 20 million people.

Hello everyone.

Hope you enjoyed that fun fact for this evening.  It’s an oldie, but goodie.

Anyway, I had no idea what I was doing for dinner tonight.  I knew it would involve chicken, but had no other plans.  Today was not conducive to planning out a meal.

So, I threw a bunch of random things into a pot (and then a pan), and called it a meal.   It came out tasting, well, really damn good.

chicken with a balsamic and caramelized onion reduction

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup water (or good chicken stock if you have any)

1/3 cup soy sauce

4 or 5 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

freshly cracked black pepper

ginger

turmeric

basil

butter

extra virgin olive oil

Method:

1. in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add the balsamic vinegar and half the water.  bring to a light boil so the acid cooks out.  i’d give this about 10 minutes (you’ll know the acid has been cooked off once it doesn’t sting your nose when you take a whiff).  if the level of the liquid seems to be too low, add the other half of the water.

2. meanwhile, in a large saute pan with sides, heat 1-2 tbsp butter and 1-2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.  once the butter is foaming, add the chopped onions and cook until brown and caramelized.

3. add the soy sauce, bay leaf, and thyme to the balsamic vinegar.  turn the heat down so it simmers.  if need be, add more water.

4. rinse and pat the chicken dry.  sprinkle liberally with turmeric, basil, and ginger.  i tend to go light on the ginger because i’m least fond of it.

5. once onions are browned, add the vinegar mixture to the pan.  scrape up any brown bits and give it a stir.  add the chicken and cover.  cook on medium heat for about 7-10 minutes (depending on the size of your cuts of chicken).  after about 10 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for another 7-10 minutes.  remove the chicken to a plate once cooked, and crank the heat up to high.  boil the sauce so it reduces by about half.  there should be barely enough liquid in the pan to coat the entire bottom.

For whatever reason, I thought this worked really, really well.  The turmeric and basil are a weird combination, but it worked for me.  It was a weird….pan-asian, italian fusion.  The chicken came out really tender, too, which is always a plus.  I’ve been eating a lot of dark chicken meat lately (it’s cheaper), and have forgotten how much I enjoy white meat.  People argue white meat has no flavor.  I disagree – its flavor is just different than dark meat, and it’s just as good.

versitility

Hello everyone.

I’ve mentioned my food crisis here before.  I move out in less than two weeks, and have tons of meat in my freezer.  And tons of leftovers in my refrigerator.  There’s nothing worse than wasted food, in my opinion.  So, what oh what to do?

Well, in an effort to put the kibosh on my chicken leftovers, I improvised some “chicken salad.”  It isn’t really chicken salad because it doesn’t involve cups of mayo and other such things.  I’d argue this was much, much better as a result.

"chicken salad"

I didn’t really keep track of proportions or how much of what ingredients I was using (I was rushing out the door to the library) but I scooped in SOME mayo, lots of whole grain mustard (I use Maille; I find it’s the best), and like two or three sprigs of fresh thyme.  I chopped up a leftover chicken thigh and combined everything in a bowl.  I have about half left over for today, and I’m thinking about putting some cheese on the sandwich.  It’d be good with pesto, too.

See?  Leftovers can be so useful….

how big are oxs’ tails?

Good evening everyone.

It seems as though the rain in Boston is finally over, just in time for the marathon.  Fortunately, my apartment is located right along the route, so tomorrow shall be quite interesting!

After a very stressful weekend, I decided to make something savory and delicious for dinner tonight.  Something involving red wine and braising in the oven.  In my effort to get rid of as much food as possible within the next two weeks, I dug some oxtails out of the freezer.  Perfect.

oxtails braised in red wine

I don’t know the chemistry behind this, but red wine develops the most unctuous, decadent, luscious flavor once the alcohol has cooked off.  And when braised for 3 1/2 hours in the oven with vegetables and your meat of choice, it becomes the most velvety, savory sauce.  It blows my mind every single time.  Seriously, every time.   This is a dish I can get enthusiastic about.  The meat literally pulls right off the bone, which is an accomplishment for oxtails.  The meat is pretty tough, so getting it tender is a challenge.  I’ve stewed oxtails in the past to a degree of success, but never have I had oxtails so tender as these.  Braising in the oven is truly the way to go.

Oxtails Braised in Red Wine, adopted from here

2 meaty oxtails
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 large carrots, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon sweet or hot Spanish smoked paprika
3/4 cup red wine, such as a Shiraz
1 can of diced tomatoes (no salt added)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Pat oxtails dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown oxtails in batches without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer as browned to a bowl. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.

Cook onion, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf in fat in pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Add paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Add oxtails with any juices accumulated in bowl and chopped tomatoes (liquid should come about halfway up sides of meat) and bring to a boil.

Cover pot and braise oxtails in lower third of oven, turning once or twice, until very tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Skim fat from sauce, then add salt and pepper to taste.

I made some spaghetti with this dish, as you can see.  It made a good accompaniment, especially with the sauce.

Some of you may gawk at the 3 1/2 hours it takes to cook.  Don’t judge, your efforts are rewarded.

pork-on-pork action

Good morning, everyone.

Not only is today a rainy one, but it’s quite cold as well.  Gross.

Anyway, I move back home in just over two weeks (17 days, but who’s counting?) and I’m feeling some pressure to use up the food I have lingering in the pantry and such.  So last night, I made an effort to use up some pork and prosciutto.

Initially, I thought it would be a good idea to wrap chicken breasts with the prosciutto.  However, when I took pork out of the freezer, I realized it was time for some pork-on-pork action.  Last night was a veritable porkfest, as it were.

pork chop wrapped in prosciutto

I don’t know what my deal was yesterday, but my game was off.  I decided to make some rice to go along with the pork, but I started cooking the rice way earlier than the pork.  I’ve…never done that before.  So to stall for time while the pork cooked in the oven, I used the rice for tahdig.  I’m glad I did because the piece of lavash bread I had hanging around was getting REALLY stale.

Porkfest

Ingredients:

2 pork loin chops

2 slices of prosciutto

1/2 lemon thinly sliced

garam masala

pepper

Method:

1. preheat oven to 350F.

2. rinse and pat dry the pork.  set on a baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or foil.

3. coat pork generously with garam masala and freshly cracked black pepper on both sides.  you won’t need salt here, because the prosciutto’s got you covered.

4. take a slice of prosciutto and wrap it around one of the pork chops.  note: i have pork loin chops (or something like that), so my cuts are a little narrower.  if you have huge pork chops, you could stuff them with the prosciutto or something if wrapping doesn’t work.

5. slice half of a lemon and place the slices on top of the pork.  place in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until you notice the lemons are dehydrated and starting to change in color.

This was a completely random recipe, and it came out really nicely.  The pork was kept tender and moist because of the lemons, and surprisingly, the lemon slices went really well with the prosciutto and pork.  The garam masala is a bit of an odd ingredient in here, but I think it worked.   It added warmth, which contrasted nicely with the brightness of the citrus.  It just goes to show that even when you slop random ingredients together, it often comes out pretty damn well.

a riff on fried chicken

Hello everyone.

It seems as though we’re entering yet another cold and rainy weekend here in Boston.  While depressing, it is conducive to getting 2 papers and 1 project done (or at least started).

Thursday night, I decided it was time for some comfort food–or at least my interpretation of it.  I wanted fried chicken, but didn’t really have the means of deep frying it.  So, I pan fried some chicken thighs that were coated in panko bread crumbs.

fried chicken

“fried” chicken

Ingredients:

panko bread crumbs (or whatever you have on hand)

1 egg

2 chicken thighs

salt & pepper

Method:

1.  In a medium saute pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat.

2.  Rinse and pat the chicken dry.  Season with salt and pepper.

3.  Break the egg into a bowl, beat it and thin it out with a little bit of water.

4.  Put some bread crumbs into a second bowl, preferably next to the one with the egg.

5.  Dunk the chicken into the egg bowl.  Coat completely.  Then, dunk the chicken into the bread crumbs bowl.  Coat completely.  Repeat if you want more coverage.

6.  Saute chicken on both sides until firm when poked.

So, there you have it.  It’s a really easy, quick meal, and it’s a somewhat healthier substitute for actual fried chicken.

a bit of restaurant exploration

Hello everyone.

Throughout Alex’s stay in Boston, he and I splurged on some good food.  One of the first restaurants we visited was Mare, located at 135 Richmond Street.  We were after good seafood without the touristy nonsense.

grilled octopus

For my appetizer, I had grilled octopus.  Octopus is one of my most favorite seafood delicacies.  It overcooks easily, much like squid, scallops, or clams.  Fortunately, this octopus was perfectly cooked.  It was tender, delicate, and flavorful.  No chewy, gummy toughness.  No stale flavor.  Perfect, melt-in-your-mouth tentacles.

It was served with a genovese pesto and potato mousse.  The pesto tasted really good with the octopus, as did the potato mousse.  I do not think I’ve ever had a potato mousse before, so that was interesting.

truffle crusted tuna

For my main course, I had truffle crusted tuna.  It was seared rare, which I have come to quite like.  I never used to like my cooked fish rare on the inside.  For whatever reason, it freaked me out even though I really enjoy sushi.  I’ve since gotten over that phobia.  The crust on the tuna almost reminded me of popcorn.  It had a peppery-salty crunch with a hint of…well, popcorn.  It was served with wilted greens, grilled eggplant slices and a red baby pepper stuffed with a kalamata olive tapenade.

It was some of the most well-done seafood I have ever had and definitely recommend it for a special night out, or well, any night out.

Another place at which we dined was Eastern Standard located at 528 Commonwealth Avenue.  We did both breakfast and dinner here (on separate days!).  Unfortunately, I took no pictures of our dinner (even though it was very good).  So, I will only discuss what I had for breakfast.

caramelized onion and goat cheese tart

For breakfast, I had a caramelized onion and goat cheese tart.  You already know how much I adore caramelized onions.  What you may not know is how much I also love goat cheese.  In September when the farmer’s markets were still in full swing, I frequently bought goat cheese from local sellers.  So good.  I love the richness of goat cheese, and it worked so WELL with the onions.   The tart was served with some greens soaked in a lemon vinaigrette of some sort.  While the dish was good, I wished I got the french toast instead.

One unfortunately rainy day, we planned to go to the Prudential Center.  It ended up not happening because the sky deck was closed for a special function, though the fog was so intense it was probably for the best.  We ended up grabbing dinner at a relatively cheap place on Newbury Street.

BURGER

Cafeteria Boston, located at 279 Newbury St, was an interesting find.  The chic decor was juxtaposed with a relatively unpretentious menu of (mostly) American comfort food staples.  I say relatively because they make it a point to discern their use of organic greens and grass-fed animals.  I’m not against either of these things, but I do find it annoying when it’s bragged about.  Alex wanted a burger, and I’d say he got a BURGER.  Topped with cheddar, “cafeteria sauce,” and a heaping mound of bleu cheese, this burger was too big to finish (yet so, so good.  I had a bite, of course.  You know, for purposes of the blog.)

I settled for a Cuban sandwich.  It was good, but then again, just a sandwich.

cuban sandwich

I enjoy Cuban sandwiches quite a lot, and this one was okay.  I’ve had better, and wasn’t completely impressed.  Their fries were good, however.  They were sprinkled with parmesan  and parsley, which was a nice touch.  On a whim, Cafeteria Boston is good.  It’s affordable by Newbury Street’s standards, but there’s better cheap eats around.

One of our final stops was a huge splurge, but it was a combination birthday celebration.  Alex turned 22 in March, and I turn 21 in May.  So, we went to Troquet.  This phenomenal eatery is located at 140 Boylston Street in the heart of the theatre district.  This restaurant goes to great lengths to ensure its diners are satisfied – I don’t think I ever actually finished a glass of water before it was being filled.  I don’t know if they made their own butter, but it was kept in these baskets from which they dug some out to put on your plate with a warm, crusty dinner roll.  They give you one dinner roll at a time, and are always willing to refill your plate.  I definitely ate way too many rolls before my actual meal, but it was totally worth it.

foie gras duo

For my appetizer, I chose a duo of Hudson Valley foie gras.  I have never had foie gras before, and clearly had no idea what I was missing.  The foie gras was accompanied by caramelized Seckel pear and an heirloom cranberry chutney.  On the far left is the pan seared foie gras (which I preferred, by far), and on the far right is the chilled foie gras.  The chilled item was interesting. The texture didn’t agree with me at first, but after a few tastes, I began to enjoy it.  It was very, very creamy.

black sea bass with clams

For my entree, I had black sea bass served with rice and clams in a saffron broth.  It was a riff on paella, which I’m particularly fond of.  The crust on the bass was salty, crunchy, and delicate.

Clams are one of my favorite seafood dishes (seriously. favorite.), and these were quite good.  The saffron broth tasted really good with the seafood and clams, as well.

The big finale was the dessert, needless to say.

chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse

I got a dark chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse and creme fraiche ice cream.  The ice cream was absolutely delicious, but I’ve been sort of obsessed with creme fraiche lately so I’m biased.

The cake was dense, but not to a sickening point.  The peanut butter mousse was sweet, but not in an artificial way.  It was superb.  It was divine.  It was indulgence at its best.  And embarrassingly, I couldn’t finish it all.

So, that was mostly it.  I hope if you are in the area and are looking for a great place to go for a romantic date or whatever suits your fancy, these “reviews” help you out.  Eating out (and indulging) is fun, particularly when you rarely –if ever– do.