No-sweat Cooking, Day 8

Dinner: August 2, 2010

31 dishes, 31 days – I’m cooking my way through Melissa Clark‘s “No-Sweat Cooking” from the August issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray. And to those of you who made your way over here via rachaelraymag.com, welcome!

Black Bean Quesadillas – an absolutely perfect comfort/convenience meal. I’ve always got beans on hand, whether portioned out in the freezer or in cans in the pantry, and cheese and tortillas are staples in our kitchen. This time of year we also keep an abundance of fresh sweet corn and scallions around, as well as the fresh chilies, tomatoes, and cilantro I used to make a quick fresh salsa to top the quesadillas with. Add a little zingy lime crema and some lime-drizzled avocado slices, and you’ve got a perfect, quick summer meal.

Get the recipe: Black Bean Quesadillas

Fall back

I’m still not feeling great and the weather has taken a turn for the craptastic, but it’s times like these when I’m happy to fall back on some old favorites, like Mike’s pork belly confit, our dinner Wednesday night:

Dinner:  September 24, 2008

I made the salsa verde, but the rest was all him. And it was delicious.

Wild salmon filets are another favorite, quick and easy to prepare for a weeknight meal.

Dinner:  September 25, 2008

Thursday night, I seared these in a bit of olive oil until the skin was crispy and the fish just cooked through, then topped them with a little grainy Riggwelter mustard. I served the filets over a mixture of brown and wild rice, wilted spinach and chopped walnuts.

We had originally planned to order a pizza for dinner on Friday night to eat while watching the Presidential debate, but I got a massive craving for mac and cheese midmorning, and since we had everything I needed to make it, there was no reason not to go with it.

Dinner:  September 26, 2008

Last night’s version had Narragansett Creamery’s Divine Providence, Grafton cheddar, Three Sisters Serena, Morbier and Crystal Brook goat cheese whisked into my standard base, along with Colman’s mustard, a couple shakes of Worcestershire and Tabasco. I added the cooked pasta right to the cheese sauce in our cast iron skillet, topped it with Panko, dried summer savory and a bit more Serena grated on top, and baked it until bubbly and browned. A salad of peppery arugula on the side provided a bit of punch to counteract the richness of the dish.

Jumble

ideas and inspiration

Sitting down with this stack of books and magazines, flipping through them, sketching out a menu for the week and beyond, well, it’s about all that has kept me sane over the last few days. A health scare for a beloved family member and an extremely busy period at work have had me frazzled, the end result being that I haven’t spent much time actually cooking. On the upside, we had a great time hanging out with old friends and new over the weekend, and we ate more meals out over the course of 3 or 4 days than we probably had in the entire month prior. I’m itching to cook more, but I must say this break has definitely provided me with some culinary inspiration.

I promised you guys a rundown of my lunch at Le Bernardin, and as expected it was a fantastic experience. The meal began with a starter of lightly smoked salmon rilletes for the table. My first course was a plate of six perfect raw oysters, ranging from teeny tiny and briny to big and plump and sweet, followed by a gorgeous main course of Florida grouper with shiso and maitake mushrooms in a lemon-miso broth. My boss likes to make sure I get the “full experience” when we go out to these lunches, so I was able to sample his selections as well – his first course of super-sweet peekytoe crab and entrée of red snapper in a ginger and scallion broth were also just wonderful. To go along with our lunch, we had a bottle of 2005 Shafer Red Shoulder Chardonnay, a really lovely and complex wine. The food and drink were amazing, the service was top-notch, and it was really a special experience I am grateful to have had. I came away with some fun ideas for future seafood dinners.

Dinner:  January 11, 2008

As for the rest of our weekend, Mike did the heavy lifting where dinners were concerned. On Friday night, he put together a delicious rendition of Fergus Henderson’s braised duck and carrots from “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating,” then on Sunday he seared a couple of grass-fed ribeyes and made a batch of fries to go alongside. My contribution to the meal was inspired both by the dish I had at Sweetwater Tavern on Thursday night, as well as by a recent Blue Kitchen post – a bright and tasty chimichurri sauce which was a perfect foil for our rich steaks.

Dinner:  January 13, 2008

I decided to put together a big batch of Bolognese sauce on Sunday and let it cook all afternoon while Mike and I did other things around the house, and as it turned out, it was a good thing I did. My workweek has been extremely busy, so while I wasn’t able to prepare the meal I had planned for Monday night, we didn’t have to scramble for a plan B – I just reheated some of the sauce (to which I added a healthy dollop of ricotta and the rest of a batch of pesto I made last week), cooked up some pasta and had dinner on the table in no time.

Dinner:  January 14, 2008

Not the prettiest dish in the world, but curling up with a glass of Barbera d’Alba and a rich and meaty dish of pasta at the end of a 13+ hour day was just what I needed.

It’s entirely possible that I’ll be eating takeout at my desk tonight as we finish up this big project, but once we’ve finished I look forward to going through my cookbooks and magazines and my little red notebook and getting back in the kitchen to take some of these recipes and ideas for a spin.

Belly Up!

sample

As has been mentioned many times on this site, our favorite restaurant in the city is Marlow and Sons. We’ve had countless special meals there, and we have often been inspired to try our own spin on dishes from their menu. They’ve made it easier for us to try to duplicate their recipes by publishing them in the excellent Diner Journal (a quarterly publication put together by the folks behind the food at Marlow, Diner and the two Bonita locations), and dinner last night was pulled from the pages of the current issue.

belly!

We jokingly refer to Chef Caroline Fidanza as “the pork whisperer” because she has such a way with pork dishes, and her recipe for pork rillons did not disappoint. We originally had this at Marlow a few months back, and while Mike feels that his version needs a bit of tweaking, this is definitely a dish we’ll make again soon. The slab of belly we had weighed in at 1.7 pounds, so Mike used four cloves garlic and probably 10-15 sprigs of thyme; you’ll want to adjust the proportions in the recipe below to the size of the piece of belly you’re using. And don’t discard the fat that’s left after frying the rillons – slice up some potatoes, season with salt and pepper and fry them in the fat until they’re golden and crisp.

Dinner:  December 12, 2007

Pork Rillons with Salsa Verde
Recipe by Caroline Fidanza, Marlow and Sons/Diner
Published in the Winter 2007 issue of Diner Journal

3 lb. pork belly, cut into 2 inch cubes
1 small bunch thyme
8 cloves garlic
Red wine

Season the belly well with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan brown the cubed belly on all sides. You will probably need to do this in batches. Remove browned pork from the pan and place in a roasting pan. Add 1/3 wine, 2/3 water, enough to cover the rillons 2/3 of the way. Nestle the sprigs of thyme and halved cloves of garlic around the browned pork. Roast uncovered in a 350 degree oven, rotating the rillons as they cook. Essentially the water and wine will cook off and the rillons will confit in the fat that they render, turning brown and tender. This won’t take too long, about 45 minutes. Remove the rillons from the oven and drain off the liquid. Reserve this for cooking if you like.

salsa verde

To make the salsa verde:

1 bunch parsley, picked
1 bunch mint, picked
1 bunch cilantro, picked
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 fresh red chile or chile arbol to taste
1/2 cup cornichons, sliced
3 tablespoons capers
Extra virgin oil
Red wine vinegar

Mix the herbs with the chile, cornichons and capers. Season with olive oil, vinegar and salt.

Serve rillons on a platter with plenty of salsa verde on top.

Alone in the kitchen

It seems fitting that I finished reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant (a quick and enjoyable read, by the way) this week. Though Mike has made it home in time for dinner every night despite his extended workdays (and an evening spent as part of a tasting panel), I’ve had to get used to going about dinner prep without him there to keep me company. I’ve been a bit off my mark this week as a result – I’ve tried a few new things and have been less than pleased with the results.

Dinner:  August 16, 2007

While my first solo attempt at grilling on Tuesday evening was fairly successful, last night’s eggplant and tomato gratin was disappointing. The eggplants I ordered from FreshDirect’s Local Farmstand were huge, and as such they were a little difficult to work with. I didn’t have time to grill the slices as I had intended, and I didn’t want to fry them, so I salted them and hoped for the best. I also made a last minute decision to skip making a béchamel and just add cheese and cream directly to the layers of eggplant and tomatoes, and that just made the whole thing soupy. The flavors were there, but this definitely needs work.

I’m much happier with the two batches of salsa I made earlier in the week – they may have been my best yet. I grilled tomatillos, tomatoes and poblano chiles over hardwood until their skins were nice and charred, then took them inside until they were cool enough to handle. I removed the husks from the tomatillos and cut them into chunks, then threw them into the blender with two of the poblanos (which I had peeled, cored, and chopped). I added a bit of salt and the juice of half a lime and pureed it, then stirred in half a finely diced red onion and a minced garlic clove. For the tomato salsa, I cored the tomatoes, chunked them up and placed them in the blender along with the remaining poblano (again, peeled, cored and chopped), the juice of a lime, a teaspoon each of ground cumin and smoked chipotle powder, and a bit of salt. Once the mixture was pureed, I stirred in the onion and garlic (in the same amounts as for the tomatillo salsa). I ended up with a little over a pint of the green stuff, and a full quart of the red – Mike’s going to have a nice snack to share with his coworkers over the weekend.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

Okay, I know I said I was going to take it easy this weekend, but I didn’t stay out of the kitchen completely. I did leave the heavy lifting to my husband, and kept my contributions simple: a tossed green salad with homemade buttermilk blue cheese dressing to go with Friday night’s grilled corn and country pork ribs; a grilled lemon and heirloom tomato salsa to top tuna steaks on Saturday, and a big bowl of tabboule salad to accompany grilled lamb skewers on Sunday. This may not have been the most restful weekend ever, but it was certainly restorative.

Grilled Pork Tacos with Charred Salsa

I’ve been spending a bit of time each week preserving our favorite late spring/early summer produce by cleaning, blanching and freezing things in small batches, so we have been trying hard to make space in our freezer by using up many of our stockpiled proteins. During a recent freezer inventory, I discovered a bag of cubed pork shoulder left over from the piece Mike bought for his last batch of chili. Since the pork was already cut into nice big chunks, I thought it would be fun to season them with a smoky rub, skewer and grill them, and serve them in warm corn tortillas – pork tacos influenced by the ones we get at Matamoros Puebla in Williamsburg.

cilantro

The cilantro in our garden had gotten so tall that it was beginning to tip over, so I also decided to make my first batch of salsa of the season. While the tomatoes around here aren’t quite good enough yet for a fresh salsa, they work just fine in this version, where the main ingredients are charred over hardwood before being blended to a chunky puree.

To season the pork, I combined a half teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, ground coriander, chipotle powder, smoked paprika and dried oregano, along with one teaspoon each of ground cumin, kosher salt, and adobo from a can of chipotles. I added the pork (about 1 lb.) to the spice mixture and tossed it to coat all sides well, and then let it sit in the fridge until we were ready to grill it.

For the salsa, we placed two whole poblano peppers, four medium-to-large whole plum tomatoes and one red onion (peeled and halved but with the stem end still attached so it wouldn’t fall apart) directly over the hot side of the grill. I also peeled two large garlic cloves, drizzled them with a teaspoon of olive oil, wrapped them up in a small piece of foil and placed that on the grill with the other veggies. We cooked these for about 10-12 minutes total, turning them occasionally. When the skins of the peppers were blackened on all sides and the tomatoes were charred and beginning to split, we pulled them off the grill and I took them inside to cool for a few minutes.

Charred Salsa

I placed the onion and garlic into a mini chopper and pulsed it until it was chopped pretty fine, then set it aside. I quartered the tomatoes and added them, along with their juices, to my blender. When the poblanos were cool enough to handle, I peeled most of the blackened skin off of them, removed the seeds and stems, and tossed those into the blender as well. The chopped onion/garlic mixture went in next, along with the juice of a lime, a healthy pinch of kosher salt, and a splash of sherry vinegar. I pureed this for just a minute or two, so that it would be relatively smooth but still have some texture, and then I poured the salsa into a bowl and stirred in a handful of chopped cilantro.

While I finished mixing up the salsa, Mike skewered the pork and grilled it (about seven minutes a side, he tells me). He also warmed a stack of tortillas, sprinkled with a little bit of water and wrapped in foil, over indirect heat for a few minutes until they were soft and pliable.

skewered

When the pork was done, we pulled it off of the skewers and placed chunks onto our warm tortillas. We topped each taco with a little bit of grated cotija cheese, chunks of radish, and a spoonful of the charred salsa. On the side, I served cumin-spiked black beans, a couple of wedges of lime to squeeze over our tacos, and cold Mexican beer.

The pork and salsa definitely had some heat, but the smoky flavors imparted by the grill, plus the freshness of lime and crunch or radish mellowed them out just a bit. As spring winds down and we head into summer, this was a nice taste of things to come.