Monday, February 08, 2010

Feeling Retro

Retro Radish and Fennel Salad

I have an affinity for all things retro. There's something about the bold colors, organic shapes and funky patterned fabrics that just speaks to me. Or maybe it's the era that I'm drawn to. Some of the best things came out of the 50's, 60's and 70's: the music (oh, the music), civil rights, Eames chairs and deviled eggs to name but a few. Don't get the wrong idea though, I'm definitely not obsessed with recapturing that period in my own life. You won't find my house filled with egg chairs, lava lamps and shag rugs. And I don't practice free love. What you will find however, is that every so often, retro style will make an appearance on my dining table. Usually, it's unintentional.

I was introduced to a version of this simple salad years ago by a family friend. Raw fennel was thinly sliced, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then drizzled with fruity olive oil and lemon juice. It was probably the first time I had tasted raw fennel, and it changed my life. Ok, that's probably a bit dramatic. Let's just say that it introduced me to a wonderful new flavor-profile that up until then, had been missing from my life. So yeah, life-changing is fitting! When served raw, fennel is sweet and herbal, with a light anise note and a wonderful crunch. It pairs magnificently with fish, but also helps to cut through heavier meats and pastas too. Over the years I began to add thinly sliced radish to the mix, which I find adds the perfect peppery accent to the sweetness of the fennel, as well as a welcome dash of color. While this salad looks lovely tossed together in a bowl, I prefer the retro feel that's created when it's layered on a platter. I find there's something inescapably retro about radishes, especially when sliced. You may be wondering how something so simple could be so illuminating. I can only urge you to make it now. You never know, it may just change your life too. 


Retro Radish and Fennel Salad
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced cross-wise (reserve the fennel fronds for garnish)
  • 5-8 radishes, thinly sliced cross-wise
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 tbs good-quality olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
On a flat platter, place the fennel slices in an even layer. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with half of the lemon juice and olive oil. Next, place the radish slices on top of the fennel, creating any patter you desire. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle the remaining lemon juice and olive oil evenly over the top. Garnish with finely chopped fennel fronds and leave to rest at room temperature at least 15 minutes prior to serving.
Alternatively, toss all ingredients together in a bowl and season to taste.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Loving Rick Bayless.



Pineapple Skillet Upside-Down Cake

For a while now I've been in love with Rick Bayless. Well not in love with him personally, though he does seem genuinely sweet, passionate and humble. No, it's his food that does it for me. I have my sister to thank for turning me onto him. She'd seen his show on PBS and found his quirky personality charming and his food looked simply delicious. Lucky for me, my birthday was around the corner and she sent me his cookbook "Mexican Everyday" as a gift. I pored over the book, paper-clipping pages of recipes to try immediately. Recipes that seemed so simple, with such few ingredients and fuss, exploded with such complex flavors in your mouth. This is authentic Mexican at its best - not your run of the mill Tex-Mex. 

I'm ashamed to say that I received this book just over 2 years ago now and it's taken me this long to write about this amazing chef and book. I can't stress enough how much I adore this book. I have made some of the most simple, flavorful and healthy dishes with Rick's brilliant guidance. The proof is in the pages - speckled with chile powder, splashed with adobo sauce and stained by pickled jalapeño juice. One of the best attributes of this book is that there are so many variations and substitute suggestions. I can't wait to share the magical recipes that have delighted our palates, such as the smoky Chipotle Meatballs and the tangy Slow-cooked Chicken with Tomatillos, Potatoes, Jalapeños and Herbs. I promise to not hold out on you for long. In the meantime, take comfort in a warm slice of juicy, caramelized pineapple atop a tender cake. You'll want to put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Trust me. Wait for it to melt slightly from the warmth of the cake, slowly meandering like a river of vanilla sauce into all the nooks and crannies. It's heaven.  




Pineapple (or Other Fruit) Skillet Upside-Down Cake - adapted from Rick Bayless
Serves 8

  • 3oz (6tbs) butter, unsalted
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark brown preferably)
  • 3 cups 1/2-inch cubed, cleaned pinapple (about 3/4 of a medium pinapple) OR 3 cups (about 1 lb) fresh or frozen raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or pitted cherries OR 3 cups 1/2-inch cubed apple, pear, peaches, nectarines or mango
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or additional AP flour)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
Preheat the oven to 375F and position the rack in the middle. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch) oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Swirl the butter in the skilllet until it turns nut-brown, then pour it into a medium bowl. Without wiping the skillet, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom. Top with the fruit in an even layer.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, soda and baking powder. Add the white sugar to the browned butter and whisk until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the egg, then the buttermilk or yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ones. Whisk just until combined.
Pour the batter evenly over the fruit in the skillet. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake for 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springy to the touch at the center. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes.
Invert a plate over the skillet, then, holding plate and skillet firmly together with pot holders, invert the two in one swift movement. Remove the skillet and the cake is ready to serve. It's best right out of the oven.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

At the Casbah.


Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine


I am in love with Morocco. I love its cuisine; colorful, aromatic and intensely flavored. I love its architecture; intricately detailed, bold and seductive. I love its furnishings; bejeweled lamps, lavishly carved armoires and symmetrical mosaics. While Moroccan food has been in my repertoire for years, and Moroccan furnishings are scattered throughout my house, I have yet to visit this beautiful and exotic country. I yearn to wander through the mysterious bazaars, to purchase the earthy spices piled impossibly high into perfect cones. I know I will make it there one day. Until then, I satisfy my cravings at home, recreating the robust dishes of this land.

Morocco was beckoned as I continued my quest to test all five meatball recipes in the January issue of Bon Appetit. The Moroccan meatball tagine was high on my to do list, and I was happy to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I have to say, my husband A. has been a very willing participant (i.e. taste-tester) in this unofficial Bon Appetit test kitchen experiment. Although it's not as if he suffered from boring or repetitive food before! What I love about Moroccan food is that it's often a one-pot meal, a tagine (stew), cooked slowly to release the maximum flavor from each component. This leads to an incredible depth of flavor, layered with complimentary spices and full-bodied vegetables and meats. While tagines are traditionally cooked in a tagine, a clay pot with a conical lid, you can easily achieve the same divine results using a dutch oven or any other heavy large ovenproof pot. Don't let the lengthy ingredient list intimidate you - this recipe comes together with relative ease, and can easily be done in stages. I made the more laborious meatballs in the morning before running out for errands, and in the afternoon the rest of the stew came together in minutes. This dish incorporates all components of Moroccan cuisine, it's aromatic, brightly colored, elaborately spiced and wonderfully hearty. I served the tagine with a traditional side of couscous, brightened a hint of lemon and speckled with cilantro. It was just what I needed to chase away the bizarre chill that crept into Florida. The meatballs are light and offer a kick of heat in contrast to the plump golden raisins which burst into a syrupy sweetness. As I closed my eyes and inhaled, I was transported to Morocco on a magic carpet of cinnamon air.





Moroccan Beef Meatball Tagine - Bon Appetit, January 2010


Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (20% fat)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely grated onion (1 small onion)
  • 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg  (fresh if possible)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
Stew:
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 14.5oz can  diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 cups 1/2-inch thick carrot slices, cut on diagonal
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 5oz package baby spinach leaves
Meatballs:
Line large baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant 2 tablespoons for each, roll meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet. Keep refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap until ready to use if making ahead.

Stew:
Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium heat. Add onions; saute about 15 minutes. Add garlic, cinnamon, turmeric and saffron, stir 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes with juice and raisins. 
Preheat oven to 350F. Bring stew to a simmer. Stir in carrots. Carefully add meatballs to stew; gently press into liquid to submerge. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cilantro over. Cover pot; place in oven. Bake until meatballs are cooked through and carrots are tender, about 35 minutes. Sprinkle spinach over stew. Cover and bake until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes longer. Gently stir to mix in spinach, being careful not to break meatballs. Remove cinnamon sticks. Season tagine with salt and pepper if necessary. 
Spoon couscous into bowls; top with tagine. Garnish with cilantro and lemon wedges. 

Grades:
Difficulty: Easy
Flavor: A

 

Friday, January 08, 2010

A perfect pear.


Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots


Growing up, pork was never a regular guest on the dinner menu. It wasn't that we wouldn't eat it, we just didn't. Sure we'd eat ham and bacon every so often, and spare ribs too, but I can't recall my mom ever serving us pork chops or a roast loin. I guess pork just wasn't really her thing. I can understand why though. If overcooked it can be unbearably dry, like chewing on sawdust. For the longest time I was convinced I didn't like pork. I have to confess, I used to say I was kosher to get out of eating it at friends' houses. I got away with this for years. Oh the shame! And then came a day, just a few years back, that I ordered pork for the first time in a restaurant. The description of the dish was like autumn on a plate and I knew I had to try it: a bone-in double pork chop on a bed of sweet potato puree with an apple cider jus. It was a revelation - moist and succulent, tender and full of flavor.What had I been missing all these years?!

It took me many years of cooking before I finally turned my attention to the pig. I have to admit that I still don't cook with it often. But when I finally do, I always wonder why I don't experiment with it on a more regular basis. Pork can be deliciously moist and marries well with a myriad of flavors, especially autumnal ingredients in my opinion. It also happens to be very budget friendly and the lean cuts are even waistline friendly!

The January issue of Bon Appetit featured this recipe as a Quick Party Dish, seeing as it can be prepared and served within 35 minutes. The timing held true and dinner was on the table with ease. The pork is simply prepared - rubbed with olive oil, garlic, thyme. The pears and shallots get the same treatment, then they're pan seared while the pork roasts in the oven. The pan is then deglazed with some stock, butter, flour and pear nectar. The resulting jus is velvety with a whisper of sweetness from the pear, a perfect accompaniment to the woodiness of the thyme. My only caveat with the recipe is that they left out salt and pepper completely. I wasn't about to risk a bland meal by forgoing seasoning the loin. I also seasoned the shallots and pears with sprinkle of salt and pepper while they seared in the pan. I think this is a necessity that not only brings out the flavors of each component, but cuts through the sweetness of the pears. Another inexplicable direction is to use an ovenproof skillet when there is no indication of actually putting the skillet in the oven at any point! So no, your skillet does not need to be ovenproof! All in all, this was a simple and quick dish, full and balanced in flavor and definitely elegant enough for a dinner party.

Bon Appetit!

Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots - adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010 
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh thyme plus fresh thyme sprigs for garnish
  • 1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin
  • 3 large shallots, each cut into 6 wedges through stem end, peeled
  • 3 unpeeled small Bosc or Anjou pears, quartered, cored
  • 4 tsp butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup pear nectar
Preheat oven to 475F. Mix oil, garlic and chopped thyme in a small bowl. Rub mixture over pork, shallots and pears. Season with salt and pepper. Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and shallots; brown on all sides, turning, about 7 minutes. Transfer shallots to platter. Transfer pork to baking sheet (do not clean skillet). Roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 145F, about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, add pears to same skillet and cook over medium-high heat until brown on cut sides, turning once or twice, about 4 minutes. Transfer pears to platter (do not clean skillet).

Mix butter and flour to a paste in a small cup. Add broth, pear nectar and butter mixture to same skillet; boil until sauce thickens, scraping up browned bits, about 7 minutes. Slice pork; arrange on platter. Surround with pears and shallots. Drizzle sauce over pork. Garnish with thyme sprigs.

Grades:
Difficulty: Easy
Flavor:  A-



Friday, January 01, 2010

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs.


Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup


There is something to be said about a meatball. They're akin to the nice boy that you gently let down, saying you'd prefer to stay friends. Then after you've carried on and had your fill of exotic and wild 'dishes', you realize that the meatball really does have it all.  Meatballs aren't complicated, they're not pretentious and they don't flaunt themselves about. They're humble, unassuming, abashed even. And yet they are so inherently satisfying and comforting. There is no limit to the possibilities and versatility of a meatball. They've been around for centuries and are featured in every culture around the world. But not all meatballs are created equal. The ideal meatball is tender and moist, full of intense and layered flavor. And while a meatball really is one of the simplest dishes to prepare, it requires a delicate hand and a little dose of patience. 


This month, Bon Appetit named meatballs their "Dish of the Year". I'm sure the recession had a hand in the resurrection of the meatball on restaurant menus and in many home kitchens this year. Affordable, delicious and homey - what more could you ask for? Though I intend to make all five featured recipes, their Mexican inspired  Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup immediately called out to me. I am infatuated with Mexican soups, with their heady aromas, earthly spice and kiss of heat from chile's. So on a particularly cold Floridian day I set out to make this  soup, certain that it would knock the chill right out of me. Within an hour and a half the soup was on the table and I eagerly tucked in. The chile flavor was strong up front with a background hint of lime, but to my disappointment the flavors didn't linger on the palate. I was surprised to find that the soup didn't really pack a punch - something that you'd expect from several tablespoons of ancho chile powder, cumin and Mexican oregano. The meatballs were succulent and tender, with a much more balanced flavor and saved the soup from being a bland failure. The crisp tortilla strips provided a nice contrast in texture even as they softened. I reluctantly graded this recipe a B as I had wanted it to be so much more. After a night in the fridge, I warmed up the soup for lunch the next day and was delighted to find the soup I was expecting in the first place. The flavors were balanced as they'd had a chance to meld and develop overnight, which in my opinion is where this recipe went wrong. The ingredients and method are all there, but the timing is off. The recipe says the soup is ready in about 20 minutes once you add the meatballs to the broth and they are cooked through. While the soup is "ready" in 20 minutes, you're doing yourself a disservice to ladle it up right away. I would recommend leaving the soup on low heat for at least another hour, preferably more, in order to allow the flavors to meld. The meatballs will have time to flavor the broth and the chile and spices will mellow and become one with the soup. If given time, this is a soup to add to your regular rotation.


Bon Appetit!







Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup - Bon Appetit, January 2010


Meatballs:

  • 2 large fresh poblano chiles (9 to 10 ounces total)
  • 1 pound ground beef (15% fat)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1/4 cup finely grated onion
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt


Soup:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, coarsely grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons pure ancho chile powder or pasilla chile powder* (do not use blended chile powder)
  • 9 cups low-salt beef broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated zucchini
  • 1/4 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lime juice


Toppings:
  • tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil
  • 4 corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

  • Make Meatballs:

    Line large rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Char chiles over direct flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag and steam 10 minutes. Stem, seed, and peel chiles, then chop finely (should yield about 3/4 cup).



    Place chiles in large bowl. Gently mix in beef and all remaining ingredients. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange meatballs on sheet.

  • Make Soup:

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion with any juices and garlic. Sauté until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin; stir 1 minute. Add broth and oregano; bring to rolling boil. Reduce heat to very low, just below bare simmer, and cook 10 minutes.


  • Stir zucchini and rice into broth. Increase heat to medium and drop in meatballs, 1 at a time. Return soup to simmer. Cover and cook gently until meatballs and rice are cooked through, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat to avoid boiling, about 20 minutes. Add 1/4 cup cilantro and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season soup with salt and add more lime juice by teaspoonfuls, if desired.

    Toppings: 

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat 1 minute. Add half of tortilla strips. Cook until crisp, gently separating strips with tongs, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer strips to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips, adding more oil if needed.


  • Ladle soup and meatballs into bowls. Top with tortilla strips and cilantro.

    Grades:

Difficulty - Easy
Flavor - B as written, A if given more time for flavors to meld.


Notes:
  • After tasting the recipe as written, I did end up adding about 1 more tablespoon of lime juice as I found it was lost otherwise.
  • This soup would also be delicious with some diced avocado added when served. 




Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year, a new project.



Bon Appetit - January 2010


Stop procrastinating. That's what I tell myself, day in and day out. Sure, life can get in the way, sometimes you're too busy, sometimes you just don't feel like it. But enough is enough. If you don't start now, then when? A New Year's resolution this isn't. It's just Kismet that a new year is beginning at the same time that I finally got inspired  to dust off my long forsaken blog. You know how when you move and begin to sort through your belongings, you always find something you had long forgotten about? And you are overcome by a sense of nostalgia as you reminisce about it? That's how I feel right now, re-discovering my blog.  A sense of comfort, as though it were just yesterday that I was last here, not over a year ago.

I recently received my first issue of Bon Appetit magazine in place of Gourmet. I must admit that at first sight I felt another pang of sadness at the loss of Gourmet. I almost resented Bon Appetit for still being around. Not because I had anything against the magazine itself, it's just that I had always been loyal to Gourmet. Yet as I opened the plastic covering and pulled the magazine out, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of hope and excitement. The birth of a new relationship. I have to admit, I really enjoyed this issue. And I hope I continue to enjoy future issues. As I was making the Poblano Albóndigas with Ancho Chile Soup from this issue of Bon Appetit, it occurred to me that while I often review Gourmet and Bon Appetit recipes on Epicurious.com, I've never done so here. So with renewed inspiration, I plan to document my budding relationship with Bon Appetit and review its recipes here. It'll be like an unofficial Bon Appetit Test Kitchen for the at-home cook. I plan to follow the recipe exactly as written and review it as such. Then if need be, I will experiment and add my own suggestions. I expect a wild ride and a tasteful journey, and I hope that you'll come along for the ride.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A sad farewell to Gourmet.


Gourmet Magazine


To say that I was shocked to hear of the demise of Gourmet Magazine is an understatement. To me, a world in which Gourmet ceased to exist was unimaginable. Gourmet has played an integral part not just in the home cooks life, but also in the lives of chefs, farmers and restaurateurs. Of course I would understand had all magazines suddenly gone out of business, but for Condé Nast to intentionally give the axe to Gourmet over some of its other publications is mind boggling. You would think its 70 year history would count for something more than a poor year of ad sales. Gourmet is not just a magazine, it's an institute, a lifestyle, a breath of delicious fresh air. While subscribers will now receive Bon Apetit for the remainder of their subscription, it's little consolation to the blow dealt by Gourmet folding.

Gourmet's last issue will be their November issue, famous for its inviting and creative Thanksgiving spreads. Ironically, November is the issue that I always look most forward to, and have the longest history with. While growing up in the Netherlands, my mother and I would eagerly await the arrival of a package every few months from her best friend in the States. In this package we would find a few issues of Gourmet Magazine, as well as several NY Times crossword puzzles. I used to love sitting at the kitchen table, thumbing through our growing collection of Gourmet, picking out new recipes to try. The Thanksgiving issue was always my favorite. Perhaps it's because it represented America, a place where I had left one foot behind. We had kept up the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in Holland, along with some fellow expat friends. It was the meal I most looked forward to out of any other, and today, little has changed.  So this year it is with the same excitement, simultaneously tinged with sadness, that I look forward to the November issue. Rest in peace Gourmet, you will be sorely missed.