Friday, November 28, 2008

Gobble Gobble

In keeping with family tradition, I gave my turkey an ironic and worthy moniker. In recent years, the lighthearted, dubious honor has mostly gone to our current president in some form of his name. Our turkey has been "W" and "Bush," and I think even just "George." Sometimes it's named after a political figure, sometimes not, but given this years' intense political climate, we just decided to go with it. We landed on "Joe the Turkey."

Joe was a tricky bird. He turned out pretty well, but I think it was the side dishes that stole the show (maybe I should have named them Sarah Palin!). And I'm usually not one to gloat, but I'm especially proud of how the gravy turned out. I skipped the bread stuffing (served it on the side instead), and filled Joe with onion, carrot, celery, fresh thyme, sage and rosemary, which flavored the bird, but mostly aided the yummy drippings. After Joe was cooked, I tipped him upright and dumped out the juices into the pan, and skimmed out the fat. Then I added turkey stock and brought to a simmer, stirring and scraping the browned bits off the bottom. I mixed equal parts flour with room-temperature butter, and stirred it in to the stock and juice, a little at a time, until thick and creamy.

Here are full recipes for some of the Sarah Palin side dishes:

Recipe for Sweet Corn Soup with Basil Cream:
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cups sweet corn off the cob, frozen
  • about 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, leaves torn in half
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

Take the torn basil leaves and soak in the heavy cream, crushing and piercing the leaves with a fork. Set aside in the fridge. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and simmer the onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet corn and cook, stirring occasionally for 3 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper while stirring. Pour in the vegetable stock until the liquid is just covering the top of the corn, and bring to a boil. Transfer the hot stock, onions and corn to the blender and blend until smooth. As you would for any hot soup, leave an opening at the top of the blender and cover with a clean tea towel to absorb the steam. Push the soup through a strainer or chinois. Pour in the cream, making sure not to get any of the actual basil leaves in the soup, and whisk until combined. Check seasoning and adjust accordingly.

Recipe for Roasted Root Vegetables:

  • 2 turnips, peeled and sliced into thick strips
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into thick strips
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut on the horizontal into thick rounds
  • 1 big shallot, sliced and rings pulled apart, skin off
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • Salt and cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the vegetables in a bowl and cover with olive oil, stirring until all are well coated. Let marinate for 30 minutes. Stir, and add splash of balsamic vinegar and tablespoon of brown sugar, and stir again to evenly coat. Spread out the veggies on a roasting pan, and sprinkle salt and pepper over the tops. Roast at 400, giving the pan a few shakes as it cooks. It will take about 20 minutes depending on how big or small your pieces are, but keep an eye on it and remove from the oven when the veggies are caramelized and dark around the edges.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Heroin for Breakfast

Ah, breakfast. Such a culinary paradox. Our natural inclinations to diversify our diet are so easily repressed, ignored, or forgotten, every morning. If you eat the exact same chicken stir-fry dish every night for a week, you get sick of it. And your friends might think that you're either a little nuts, or that you really need to branch out. Or both.

The usual rules don't apply at breakfast. We've all had that period in our lives where we ate the same cereal every morning for months on end. Until maybe we hit a wild streak and tried a new granola bar. Then it was the new granola bar every morning for a month. We want to start the day in a comfortable place, and so we conform to our comfortable morning routines.

My comforting morning sustenance routine has included a mug of English breakfast tea (with milk) every day for the last year and a half. The upbeat, never annoying, whistle of the tea kettle is my merry morning song. Some streaky symphonic contributors over recent months have included Honey Nut Cheerios, ginger bread cookies, vanilla-almond granola with yogurt, toast with honey butter and a soft boiled egg. Lately, however, breakfast has taken a dangerous new direction.

It all started very innocently a few weeks ago. I had innocently stopped off at Le Pain Quotidien to purchase an innocent baguette, when I innocently overheard a conversation taking place that piqued my epi-curiousity. A customer was chatting and laughing with the woman behind the counter; "Um, ok, yes, I'd like to try it," he concedes. She offers him a spoonful of something that looks fantastic. She pauses, "Well? Am I right?!" I'm trying not to stare. "Oh wow," he finally sighs, "that reminds me so vividly of my childhood. When I was a boy, we ate something just like that every day for breakfast in my country (which, I come to find out, is Turkey). I've had Nutella, which is close, and tastes okay, but this," his eyes widening, "this is perfect." Suddenly he turns to me (oh crap! I was staring!) and says, "Never, ever, eat this. It is like heroin." He turns back to the woman at the counter, "I'm sorry. I can't. It's too good." And then he leaves. But I swear on my baguette, not 30 seconds later, he was back buying a whole jar of the stuff. Heroin.

Noisella, it's called. Nostalgia in a jar. Belgian chocolate and hazelnut spread. And yes - not one to heed warnings about food, especially food dubbed "perfect" - I did buy a jar for myself. Once again, it started innocently. It's daily a.m. usage was accompanied by croissants and crusty bread, consumed with my morning tea. Now, fully addicted, I caught myself today dipping pretzels and trying to justify it as lunch. And doing it again for dinner. And realizing I did that yesterday, too. Admitting you have a problem is the first step. I might be a little nuts, and I definitely need to branch out. When a routine becomes an obsession, it's time to shake things up.

Monday, November 24, 2008

DIY Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce - conveniently pre-packaged in a glass jar - oh so easy. So many options. So affordable. So quick. Just add pasta.

But the store's just so faaaaaaar and it's rainiiiiing (that's the sound of me whining in my head). Good thing homemade tomato sauce is a snap, it's delish, and it's easy to keep key ingredients on hand. And it makes your house smell like that Italian Grandmother you always wanted.

Recipe for Whiny Winey Tomato Sauce:
  • 1 can of whole peeled tomato
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • Dab of tomato paste
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp combo of dried herbs - basil + thyme (if you have fresh herbs on hand, use them! Just stir 'em in at the end)
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onions and garlic. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes until soft and golden on the edges. Add a dab of tomato paste and stir, cooking about 1 more minute. "Deglaze" the pan with the wine and splash of balsamic vinegar. Turn heat to medium low. Open the tomatoes, and pour the sauce into the pan. Remove the whole tomatoes from the can and dice finely while smashing out some of the juice. Transfer to the saucepan. Stir in the herbs, sugar, salt and pepper, and simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes.

Okay, so it's easy, but not as quick as the stuff in the jar. But what's the rush? Pour yourself a glass of that wine and whine about your crazy ________ (a. Co-workers / b. In-laws / c. Boss / d. Neighbor) while you leisurely prepare the rest of your meal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Purée of the Day

Jack, friend and dinner guest, had witnessed my actions in the kitchen, and was aptly prepared for the taste to come. Nathan, husband and regular dinner partner, had come home later than expected from work, and was harboring false expectations for what he was about to eat.

"Wow, I love cauliflower prepared this way!" Jack thought to himself.

"These mashed potatoes taste weird," said Nathan.

A quick conversation about the roasted cauliflower purée cleared up the mild misunderstanding, followed by some laughing and banter:

"What if we opened a themed restaurant, and served a different purée each day, and it was always a surprise??"

Hmm... bad idea. Good idea? Roasting cauliflower and turning it into a creamy, delicious side dish. You may want to warn your guests ahead of time.

Recipe for Roasted Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes"
  • One head of cauliflower, the florets broken off in roughly equal-sized pieces
  • 1/4 onion, skin discarded and rings pulled apart
  • One clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • Heavy cream
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and white pepper

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread out the cauliflower on a jelly roll sheet or roasting pan, and scatter the onion pieces and garlic clove among the cauliflower. Drizzle a little olive oil and roast until the tops of the cauliflower are golden, about 20-30 minutes. Whiz the veggies in a food processor with the butter until combined. Slowly pour cream into the mixture a little at a time and continue to purée until you reach a desired creamy consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Do Choke

I love foods that I can eat with my hands. Forks and spoons + me are such a clumsy combination, that I almost always end up wearing part of my meal as an unintended accessory to my outfit. So I really enjoy snacking on an artichoke. Whip up some herb butter (tonight I made it with fresh lemon and dill), grab some crusty bread, and you've got yourself a first course to an elegant meal or a simply delightful finger food snack.

Recipe for Black-Tipped Artichoke (2):
  • 2 artichokes
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 dry bay leaf, broken in half

In a medium stainless steel saucepan, or a pan that is big enough to comfortably hold your chokes without overlapping, heat about an inch of water on high until boiling. Add a little lemon juice, the peel of the lemon, and the bay leaf pieces to the water. Bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, as the water is heating, prepare your artichokes. When selecting a choke, look for a nice green one that feels heavy for its size. The leaves should be tight. Cut the stem off the bottom, so the choke sits flat. Remove some of the tough leaves around the bottom. Be careful of the sharp points at the tip of each leaf - cut off the top inch (or so) of the choke, and snip the pointy tips off the leaves, rubbing with lemon juice as you go to prevent browning. Sit the chokes upright in the pan of the simmering water, and cover the pan so the chokes absorb the steam. Steam the chokes for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the broiler. Transfer the steamed chokes to a shallow gratin dish, still upright, and broil for about 5-10 minutes until the tips turn black. Serve the chokes with warm crusty bread and herb butter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Worth the Wait

"What's the best dish on the menu?" The restaurant manager repeated my question, eyeing me flirtatiously.

Oh brother.

It was the kind of rainy November night that makes you want to sit in the corner of a cozy restaurant, surrounded by friends, laughing and drinking wine until you finally close the place down. Unfortunately, the people lingering at the corner table that was slated for our group reservation at 10 p.m. seemed to feel the same way. I glanced at my watch - 10:43.

I'd spent the last three quarters of an hour posted near the kitchen entrance, watching food go in and then out of what I assumed to be a 700 degree wood burning brick oven, and then delivered to the nearby counter to be plated before being handed off to another section of counter to await its appropriate server.

I was mesmerized. Watching. Planning my order. Thinking about how amazing it would be to roll my sleeves up and get back there. Wondering how the guy working the brick oven avoided setting his hands on fire. The manager sauntered over to find out if I was being taken care of (and maybe to make sure I wasn't stalking one of his sous chefs). "Oh yes, thank you. Just waiting for my table. I like to watch the food. What do you think is the best dish on the menu tonight?"

The dialogue taking place on this particular rainy night is at Middle Eastern restaurant Taboon, off the main beat, but still in what's considered Hell's Kitchen. We waited a long time for our table. I was watching the front-of-house activity for a good 50 minutes. The manager professed his love to me. But oh, the food. The food was incredible. The focaccia flatbread was warm and crisp from the brick oven, and the hummus was flawless. We split an incredible shrimp appetizer that I think I can duplicate (I'll share the recipe in an upcoming article if it proves successful). I ordered the garlic and pistachio oil marinated hangar steak that was perfectly grilled, served on top of a red and yellow pepper chutney and garnished with crunchy pistachios. No dessert was ordered among us, but my potato purée was so sweet and creamy that it was a treat in itself.

I laughed and drank wine, surrounded by friends, at our cozy corner table. And yes, we closed the place down.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pretty Peas

Okay, so my soup last night was less than fabulous. Still, I was hoping to start a "soup" category under my Recipes section, so maybe I'll just start with one of my favorite easy soups that I make often, instead of a culinary experiment gone bad.

I first tasted this soup in 2006 when my mom adapted it from a recipe she found in Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook and served it at a spring party. It is such a beautiful shade of green and tastes so fresh, and the jalapeno provides a surprising and pleasant kick, I love to serve it as a vibrant first course.

Recipe for Pea-Cilantro Soup:
  • Homemade or good quality chicken stock, about 3 cups
  • One bag of frozen peas
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeno, diced (seeds removed)
  • Chopped cilantro, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan, heat the stock on one burner. On another burner, in a medium saucepan, heat the butter on med-low and stir in the onions, cooking until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the jalapeno to the onions and cook a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add the peas to the medium saucepan, and cover with the hot stock, so just the top of the peas are covered (if you come up short, add more stock, or, if you must, a little water). Bring to a boil and cook the peas until just soft, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and pour mixture into a blender. Remove the middle section from the lid of the blender, so steam can escape, but before you turn the blender on, add the chopped cilantro and salt/pepper, and hold a folded tea towel over the top to cover the hole in the lid as you blend. This allows the steam to be absorbed by the towel, but no green splatters across your kitchen ceiling. Once you have blended the soup, taste and adjust seasoning, and pour in the cream. Blend one more time on low. The soup can be chilled and served cold (with an optional dollop of fresh whipped cilantro cream) and it tastes great served hot, too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Trial and Pear

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

When my work day comes to a close and I begin to make my way home, I start to think about dinner. Okay, that's not exactly true - I think about dinner frequently throughout the day. But I think about it the most on my way home, because that's when I stop off at the store. Having recently cooked my pumpkin mascot, I had about a 1/2 cup of pumpkin purée remaining in my fridge that I thought would make a good fall soup. "Certainly the market will have some fall vegetables," I thought, as I walked briskly to Zabars, clutching the lapels of my cardigan together (I left my scarf at work), "I could make a lovely roasted turnip and pumpkin soup. Maybe with walnuts. Pecans? No, walnuts." My mind went on like this as I walked, spinning, trying to pair the flavors in my head.

When I arrived at the store, I headed directly towards the produce. "Turnips? Hmmm... nope. Parsnips? Some interesting carrots? No?? Crap."

Time to improvise. I see Bosc pears! My imagination perks up: "Yes! Those would taste good with pumpkin. I'll roast them, add some cardamom, some fresh grated ginger, incorporate that into the pumpkin soup, whip up a nice vanilla-scented cinnamon cream to plop on the top, it will be fabulous."

When I arrive at my kitchen at last, I commence roasting and simmering, and creating the whipped cinnamon cream. My husband comes home, and after observing me for about 30 minutes, immersed in my project and not paying him any attention, says, "That had better be the world's best soup."

The final product tasted as divine as I imagined. Unfortunately, I committed a cardinal sin of chef-dom along the way, which ultimately ruined the dish. All of my conceptual focus went to the flavor, and I completely ignored what the texture of the pear would do to my creamy pumpkin soup. It made it grainy. I chewed my soup, and probably made an ugly face. I did not anticipate this.

But I should have. I know better. I've eaten pear before, and I am familiar with its grainy texture. Pear is wonderful in so many dishes, sweet and savory, but it is not a good choice for creamy soups. A chef needs to be able to think about more than flavors. There is so much to consider when building a great meal. If I'm going to master this cooking thing, I need much more practice. I'm not afraid to keep trying. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Carpe Vinum

I absolutely support solitary wine consumption. While many caution "drinking alone" as a symptom of alcoholism, I find there are certain exceptions to every person's path (or downward spiral) in life. I often drink wine as I cook, and sometimes even when I'm enjoying take-out pad thai, alone, on a Sunday night. My companion tonight is a 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon from RustRidge Vinyards in Northern California.

I remember purchasing this wine; my husband and I were at a corporate dinner function to support a new up-and-coming winery, and after a fabulous meal, paired with tastings of several different wines, we chose this particular Cab Sav as our favorite and adopted our very own bottle. That was over a year ago. I think the reason we've held on to this bottle for so long is because we were hoping to celebrate something, or wait for that perfect, special occasion, to break it open. Riding on high expectations, the wine has been waiting for us on this pedestal we've created. Through birthdays, anniversaries, a new home in a new city, new jobs, and visits from friends - nothing was worthy of this particular wine.

Until something very unworthy happened. It is Sunday night. My husband is out of town for a business trip. Our two pugs are curled up, asleep at my feet. Snoring gently the way that pugs do. I'm nervous as hell about my work day tomorrow (my first big partnership pitch... cross your fingers for me) and I find myself really needing a glass of wine to ease into my evening. I worry about the repercussions of opening this wine with no one to share it with. Will my husband be mad at me for drinking it without him? Will I regret not saving it for a special dinner party? I shove my fears aside and pour myself a glass.

But something is not right. I've waited too long, and the wine is not as good as it once was. Somewhere on the pedestal, the integrity of the wine has been compromised. I don't know when, or how, but I suddenly do have one regret: not enjoying it sooner, for no particular occasion at all.

Life is short, drink your wine. Share it, or don't, but for heaven's sake - drink it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Some Like it Hot

I have many goals in my life. I have a few aspirations, too. But I only have one mission: to discover the perfect cup of hot chocolate. I guess it all started on a 2007 trip to Paris. My mother told me, "You absolutely MUST go to Angelina. They have the world's best hot chocolate." And somewhere between the Louvre and Arc de Triomphe, I went. And it was very good. But not good enough to leave me satisfied with the notion that I will never again consume a better cup of hot chocolate. It was so thick, it was almost like drinking pure chocolate syrup. I prefer something more drinkable, something that makes me reach for more instead of reaching for my water glass. A chocolate beverage with subtle-but-surprising flavors and aromas to tease my senses. When the ancient Aztecs roasted their treasured cocoa beans to make a chocolate drink, they would spice it with chili peppers and wine. Of course the beverage has evolved over time into the sugary treat it is today, but I think those Aztecs probably knew a thing or two about their cocoa.

Whenever I've had a really rough day, or I'm just really cold, a cup of hot chocolate usually does the trick. Inspired by several recipes, I came up with my own that is particularly comforting. The title is a nod to a recipe for "The Duke's Hot Chocolate" featured in the book, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper - a recipe that was enjoyed by the Bentivolglio Dukes of Bologna and features hints of vanilla, orange, and allspice.

Mine is enjoyed by me, and sometimes I just want to pretend that I'm a lady of the high court.

Recipe for Duchess Hot Chocolate:

  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of good salt
  • 3 dashes of nutmeg
  • 3 dashes of cinnamon
  • 1 dash of ground cloves
  • zest of a small orange (enough for only about 1/2 tsp)
  • 2 tsp Grand Mariner

In a small saucepan over low heat, slowly heat the milk and vanilla extract, whisking occasionally. Combine the cocoa powder, sugar, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, and whisk briskly into the warm milk. When combined, add the zest and whisk in the Grand Mariner. Test temperature, and serve when it has reached desired warmth.

Allow yourself enough time, post-consumption, to pass out on the couch. I'll never give up my global search for the perfect cup, but at least I found something satisfying that is as close as my kitchen.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yes... Much Better

Fortunately, after my sticky breast pastry incident, there was really nowhere to go but up. I decided to try a baby papaya in my own sticky rice dessert, since a) it looked good, and was on sale and b) I like to try different things. That's the great thing about fruit - so much of it is interchangeable in cooking, once you figure out the basic flavors and categories, there's really no excuse not to experiment.

Papayas and mangoes are both considered to be tropical fruits. While mangoes have a tough core in the middle, papayas have tiny, round seeds (see below). Cut your papaya length-wise down the center, and scoop out the seeds. Then, using long strokes from top to bottom and left to right, dice the fruit by cutting a grid. Try to leave the skin intact as much as possible, because then you can just scoop your diced bits out of the skin.

Recipe for Sweet Sticky Rice and Tropical Fruit:

  • 2 cups cooked sticky rice (follow the directions on the package of glutinous rice. Remember to allow time to soak it. The longer you soak it, the less time you will need to steam it)
  • 1 ripe mango, or papaya, or guava...
  • 1/2 can of coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp good salt
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Heat the coconut milk, salt, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low. Take out a small amount (about 2 tbsp) of the liquid and reserve. Add the cooked sticky rice to the sauce, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Scoop the rice into a bowl and place the sliced fruit on top. Drizzle with the reserved liquid, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sticky Situation

About 6 months ago, I was introduced to a popular Thai dessert - sticky rice and mangoes. The taste of the warm, sweet rice with the cool, tangy exotic fruit and toasted sesame seeds was unlike any dessert, or dish, I'd ever tried. The aroma and melt-in-my-mouth flavors transported my imagination to another culture and life. Last week while fumbling my way through Chinatown, I happened to land in a tiny mouse hole of a bakery that sold sticky rice-mango "pastries," dusted in coconut, for 80 cents. For only 8 dimes, I had no choice but to try it. I pointed, gestured, "one please," and made my way into work, giddy about my treat.

It was so full of promise, my beloved sticky rice-mango treat. But no sooner had I taken my first bite, when I realized it would not live up to my hopes and expectations. It didn't quite taste right, and the texture was distracting. It felt like I was trying to eat a breast implant. I've never actually held a breast implant before, and I don't intend to ever receive breast implants, but if I ever change my mind, I will go to Chinatown, pick up a sticky rice-mango "pastry," show it to my plastic surgeon, and say, "please make them feel like this."

Needless to say, I was totally unsatisfied with that particular sticky experience. But I did remember to do my monthly breast self-exam, so I guess it wasn't a total loss. Preventative health care for 80 cents. A pretty great deal, really.

I decided instead to make my Thai treat at home, the old-fashioned way. Sticky rice takes planning. It is glutinous rice that must be soaked for at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight. I'll let you know how it turns out - tune in tomorrow for an update.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Duck... Duck... Chicken!

The September "Paris" issue of Gourmet magazine featured a section devoted to succulent duck confit. My mouth has been watering for a recipe featured on page 137 ever since I read about it: Asian Noodles with Barbecued Duck Confit. I took the first step the other day when I visited the Hong Kong Supermarket to retrieve Chinese black vinegar. Tonight, I almost made it.

The thing about duck confit, aside from the fact that it is delicious, is that it's a quintessential "restaurant" dish. Typically when I eat at a restaurant, particularly ones with a reputable executive chef, I like to order a.) whatever the house recommends or b.) something I don't have the means to make at home. At French restaurants, often this dish is the duck confit. As much as I want to try to make it, it is time consuming, and I currently lack not only the time but also the equipment (i.e., deep fat thermometer) to give it a go.

Hoping to find it instead at the counter of one of my local high-end markets, my efforts proved fruitless, and I wondered instead if chicken legs for $2.75 could suffice. The Chinese black vinegar was difficult enough to locate - if I couldn't find cheater's duck confit in New York, who would really try this recipe?

The chicken turned out to be a fine substitute. I would absolutely make this spicy Asian barbecue chicken again, but I think next time I would serve it on rice. The noodles were great, and overall I thought it was a good dish. My husband didn't care for it though; too many clashing flavors for his taste. In my adapted recipe below, I only replace the duck confit with the chicken (and cook it a little longer) and I also cut some of the Chinese black vinegar, because it is incredibly potent.

Recipe for Asian Noodles with Barbecued Chicken Legs (adapted from Gourmet):

For the noodles:

  • 7 oz dried rice-stick noodles (rice vermicelli)
  • 2 small carrots, thin sliced
  • 1 handful of green beans, trimmed
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh herbs, coarsely chopped - basil, cilantro and a little mint

For the chicken glaze:

  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp Sriracha (Southeast Asian chile sauce)

For the noodle sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 + 1/2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Soak the noodles covered in cold water for 30 minutes. In one small bowl, stir together all the glaze ingredients. In another small bowl, stir together the sauce ingredients. Place the chicken legs skin-side up on the rack of a broiler pan, then pour about 1/2 to 1 cup of water in the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and brush about 1/2 the glaze on the legs. Roast until brown, about 20 minutes, and flip the legs, brush with glaze, and cook another 5-10 minutes. Flip one more time, brush with remaining glaze, and turn the oven to broil. Crisp under the broiler until skin is a little black, about another 3 minutes. Meanwhile, blanch the carrots in a small saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Return the water to a boil, and cook the green beans until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with carrots. Bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Drain the noodles, and cook in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Drain again, and transfer back to the bowl. Add the sauce, carrots, beans and scallions, and toss with tongs. Serve the noodles with chicken legs on top, and generously garnished with the fresh herbs.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Better Than Candy

I couldn't believe it. Yesterday I was leisurely strolling toward Union Square when it dawned on me that I somehow managed to breeze through Halloween without pumpkins. The signs at the Union Square farmers' market approached me, one at a time, with persuasion. Pumpkins! Last Chance! Half Price! Gone Soon! I selected an adorable 3 lb. sugar pumpkin for $2. It is now my autumn mascot - sitting on my kitchen counter, reminding me of the fall season. Soon I will turn it into fragrant, spiced pumpkin bread. Fresh pumpkin beats up on the canned stuff any day. To make your own puree, select a little sugar pumpkin (the big jack-o-lantern type tend to be too large and stringy); they are small and sweet, about 3-5 lbs, and they have a dark and flavorful flesh. Cut it in half and scoop out the strings and stem area and seeds from the middle (save the seeds for a roasted, salted snack!). Place the halves face down in a shallow baking pan and cover with foil. Bake at 350 for about 1.5 - 2 hours. Once the pumpkin has cooled off, scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor, or mash with a potato masher or ricer.

Recipe for Punkin' Bread:

  • 3/4 cup of pumpkin puree
  • 7 tbsp room temp. butter (plus a little more for the pan... so you need about 1 stick)
  • 1 + 1/4 cups of flour (plus a little more for the pan)
  • 1 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp good salt

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your loaf pan by greasing with butter and dusting lightly with flour. Whisk together the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt - in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, egg, and pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, and stir until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Below: Gremlin Gourds at the Union Square market.