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Fish Balls!

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Ok. So I can hear you snickering. And also wondering…why fish? Well the simple answer is that I don’t eat a great deal of meat–almost never at home–and I really like fish. Anyhow, these are really delicious. I’ve posted other variations of these here (the tuna and chickpea meatballs are one of my favorites). Anyhow, I hope you try these. You’ll be glad you did…

Fish Meatballs with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

 

Makes about 2 dozen small meatballs

1 pound fish, diced

½ cup diced sun dried tomatoes

2 large eggs

2 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed and diced

1/2 small onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a coarse paste. Transfer to a clean bowl and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Shape into meatballs (if it feels to wet or loose add more bread or a few tablespoons of whole wheat flour, then allow it to rest for five minutes again). Cook the meatballs in a skillet, in an oven, or poach them in sauce.

Before the party…

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I was the first one in the kitchen today. This is not always the case but it was today. I enjoy it; I find it soothing. It was a busy day today–I knew this before I arrived–but in the early hours of this hundred-year-old kitchen by myself I find it tranquil. And as usual, I had a camera with me so I snapped a few photos. It relaxes me, at times, to look through a view finder. Anyhow, I thought I’d share a few of the photos.

Urban Simplicity.

Five (or Seven) Quotes from Julia Child

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Julia Child (née McWilliams)
August 15, 1912 — August 13, 2004
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
“Everything in moderation… including moderation.”
“Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing–not career or housework, or one’s fatigue–and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”
“To be a good cook you have to have a love of the good, a love of hard work, and a love of creating.”
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.”
More Five Quotes

Bananas Foster!

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Okay. So a few things first. This dish is so easy to make you won’t even have to think about it. It is really, really delicious. But it’s also really rich (every so often is ok, right?). The image above is the recipe in large quantity; I made it today for 120 people (in that recipe there is 4lbs butter, 4 lbs brown sugar, an entire bottle of rum, and 65 bananas).  Also in the recipe above the bananas are sliced crosswise, rather than the traditional lengthwise (which I recommend, but a crosswise is easier to handle with a large batch). This dish was invented at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1951 to honor Richard Foster, who at the time lead the New Orleans Crime Commission and was a good friend of Owen Brennan and a  regular at the restaurant. Anyhow, here’s a recipe for four servings.

Bananas Foster

Serves 4

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 medium bananas, peeled and sliced
1/2  cup dark rum
4 scoops French vanilla ice cream

Heat the butter and sugar in a large skillet; stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the bananas and cook them for a minute or so, until they begin to brown. Carefully stir in the rum and allow it to flambe. Spoon the bananas and sauce over the ice cream.

Urban Simplicity

Broth, Bouillon, Brodo (y Caldo)

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Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”
LouisP. De Gouy

A couple things…

Firstly, I have relatively little trouble eating (and ultimatley sustaining on) meatless or near-meatless meals. Actually, I prefer it. But I have to admit the one thing that would keep me from being a full-blown vegetarian is meat-based stock or broth…or what a vegan friend of mine refers to as “meat juice.” Rice cooked in water is bland, but cook it in a rich broth and it is a meal unto itself. If you have a rich broth and want a soup the flavor is already accomplished…whatever else you add is simply a bonus. I add chicken stock to most things I cook aglio e olio. The famed chef, Auguste Escoffier–whom which chef De Gouy worked under–has said that (and I’m paraphrasing) with a good stock anything can be accomplished. Stock/broth, to me, is a form of alchemy. And I love how the kitchen smells with a broth slowly simmering away (home kitchen or work kitchen). Today at work was slow and I made seven pots of the golden stuff (about 40 gallons) and the kitchen smelled amazing. Anyhow, for recipes and lore about soup and stock read this article I wrote for Artvoice a couple years ago. In the meantime…simmer. 

Maccheroni al Forno con Quattro Formaggi

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That’s a pretty fancy name (referring to the title of this post) for something that translates to American English as Macaroni-and-Cheese (okay, macaroni-and-four-cheeses). The recipe is really, really easy, and really, really delicious. It may not be the healthiest thing to eat, but geeze o’ man is it delicious (did I mention how delicious this is?). The recipe pictured is the same one that is written below, but the beauty is that you can add your own twist to this. You can, for example, add or subtract whichever cheese(s) you like/dislike. Or better yet, add various other foods to the dish, such as broccoli florets, roast peppers (sweet or spicy), sausage (chorizo is awesome), diced ham, or even shrimp. Anyhow–and just to reiterate–this is super easy and super delicious. Enjoy.

Macaroni-and-Cheese
(with four cheeses)
Makes about four servings
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup shredded cheddar
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Fontinella
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat and oven to 350F. Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan then add the flour, stirring to form a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat—while stirring—for a few minutes, then add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper. Using a wire whisk, stir the sauce over medium-high heat until smooth. Continue stirring until it is heated and thick. Cook the sauce for a minute or two then remove from the heat. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a lightly oiled skillet or other oven-proof baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake the macaroni-and-cheese for about 20 minutes, or until it is hot throughout, bubbling, and golden.

Urban Simplicity.

Things That Can be Carried on a Bike (#416 & #417), a Brief Story Behind it, and a Simple Recipe

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#416 (first photo above)…a canvas bag containing a few books; a double plastic bag containing a cooked turkey carcass, and a few vegetables for mirepoix.

#417 (second photo above)…a cardboard box containing 18 pint contains full of still-warm turkey broth.

Okay, so here’s the deal. Nearly every year, after our Thanksgiving feast at one of my sister’s houses, I take the turkey carcass(es) and make turkey broth with it/them the next day. I usually have off of work and it’s a great day just to take it easy around the house and let the broth simmer. Then, after straining and packaging it, I freeze it and have homemade broth for weeks/months ahead. Well this year I had to work…but I still took the turkey carcass (I’m a professional cook, I can’t let something that good simply be discarded). Anyhow, I carried the carcass to work, made the broth there (one of the many privileges of working in a kitchen), packaged it, and carried it home. It now resides in my small freezer for future use.

The recipe for turkey broth (which is super easy to make and really delicious) is below. For additional recipes that highlight ways in which to utilize Thanksgiving leftovers, click here or here.

Turkey Broth

1 cooked turkey carcass, and any scraps, juices, and pan scrapings
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into thirds
4 ribs celery, cut into thirds
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
Combine the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and cover with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for a few hours, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain and refrigerate until needed. 

Gravy Deconstructed…

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The following text was originally published in Artvoice; to see it at its original location, click here.

Gravy(grā’vē) n., pl.–vies a. The juices that drip from cooking meat. b. A sauce made by thickening and seasoning these juices.
–The American Heritage Dictionary

It’s as ubiquitous at a Thanksgiving feast as the turkey itself. Mashed potatoes would be nothing without it, ditto for the stuffing. Sometimes it’s thin and sometimes it’s thick but it’s always there. I’m of course speaking of gravy.

But what is it, really? If you think about it, it’s simply meat juice that has been thickened. But while this may be true it’s also nothing short of alchemy, for there are as many insipid and flavorless gravies as there are delectable ones.

Gravy may be part of our historical Puritan feast (though I do question if it were on the original Thanksgiving menu), but its roots go back further. Gravy is a simple sauce, to be sure, and French chefs were the first to codify sauce making. This said, gravy is something of a first cousin to the classic au jus (with juice), or jus lié(bound or thickened juice), or even more specifically and in plain English: the thickened juices that dripped from roasting meat.

The etymology of the word gravy also points to the French. According to historian Harold McGee, in his encyclopedic tome, On Food and Cooking, the word gravy comes from the antiquated French word, grané, which later became gravé. It’s easily apparent how this could come out sounding like gravy to an anglophile. Mr. McGee goes on to stay that the n was most likely changed to a v in a simple calligraphy error when transcribing one manuscript to another by hand.

Ok, by now you’re probably thinking enough with where it came from, just give me a recipe. The thing is, like many dishes, there is no one recipe for gravy, only methods; it really depends on your situation–but it’s still very simple to make. The variables are whether there’s a lot of liquid after the turkey is roasted or if the pan is dry, whether you’re making it directly in the roasting pan or a saucepot, and if you plan to thicken it with flour or cornstarch.

Speaking of starch, the preferred method by most professionals is flour, and to do this the flour should be cooked in fat (butter, oil, or turkey grease), lest it leave a lingering starchy flavor to the gravy. And when you cook flour and fat together you are really making a roux, which is not only the foundation to most thickened soups and sauces, but is also French in origin; the word roux is said to be derived from an old variation of the French word rouge, meaning red, which no doubt makes reference to the change of color that occurs when flour is cooked.

At any rate, I’ll stop complicating an uncomplicated recipe and offer three different methods for making gravy. They are extremely simple and can be adapted to whatever type of meat you happen to be roasting. When adding liquid to gravy I recommend using broth not water. Professional cooks have homemade stocks readily available, but in the home kitchen canned broth is perfectly acceptable. Keep in mind that canned broth already contains salt, even the low sodium variety.

Turkey Gravy #1: When the turkey is finished roasting and only a small amount of liquid remains this method works well. This is also the classic method.

Remove the turkey to a platter. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat and cook it until the liquid evaporates. Pour off all but a couple tablespoons of fat. Add a few tablespoons of flour and cook it for a few minutes, taking care not to burn the flour. Then whisk in a cup or two of chicken broth and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, which are pure flavor. Simmer the gravy for a minute or two then strain it to remove any lumps and brown specks.

Turkey Gravy #2: If there is a large amount of liquid in the pan this is a better method to follow.

Remove the turkey to a platter. Pour the fat and liquid into a pot or bowl. Using a spoon or ladle transfer a few tablespoons of fat to a small sauce pot, remove the rest of the fat from the liquid and discard it. Heat the sauce pot over medium heat. Stir in an equal amount of flour and cook the flour/fat mixture for a minute or two while stirring. Add the turkey liquid to the sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook the gravy for a few minutes, then strain it to remove any lumps. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Gravy #3: This is the simplest method, though the gravy will have a transparent sheen to it, rather than the typical cloudy sauce-like appearance. With this method it doesn’t matter whether there is a lot of liquid or a little.

Remove the turkey to a platter. If there is a lot of liquid remaining in the pan, pour it into a sauce pot and remove and discard the fat. If there is little or no fat remaining in the pan add a couple cups of chicken broth and place it over medium heat. Scrape any browned bits from the pan, then transfer everything to a sauce pot; remove and discard the fat. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Dissolve a few tablespoons of cornstarch in an equal amount of cold water and add it to the simmering liquid. Bring the gravy to a boil and simmer for a minute or two. Season it, if necessary, and strain to remove any lumps or brown specks.

A Quick and Delicious Recipe (and how cooking can be therapeutic)

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I’ve posted this recipe before and it’s one of my favorite stir-fries. Sometimes I make it myself and now-and–again I order it from a local restaurant. But, as often is the case, I’m jumping ahead.

Last evening I was stressed; over a few things but basically that I had too much to do and not enough time to do it. And often when I’m stressed it leads to melancholy. I had cooked and rushed around a kitchen (at work) all day, and had some studying and writing to do besides things around the house. I knew it was impossible to fit it all in that evening. And when I’m stressed I also tend to procrastinate. So that evening I went to the health club for a quick swim and a long steam. And as I sat in the steam room I thought of dinner…I’ll stop on my way home and pick up a portion of Broccoli-and-bean curd from a local restaurant, I thought. And as I pedaled and coasted home–and was really not feeling like doing the chores ahead of me–I remembered that I still had broccoli growing in my backyard (pictured below) and some tofu in my fridge. So instead of doing the chores I had planned I went home and cooked.

I cook all day at work for other people and sometimes it really feels good to simply cook for myself. Cooking, in the right conditions, can in fact be therapeutic (click here). So I poured myself a glass of wine and went in the backyard with my dogs to pick broccoli. It was already dark and a beautiful crisp autumn evening. So before cutting the broccoli I sat on a stool while my dogs wandered, sniffed, snorted, and peed the entire perimeter of the backyard (the garden is fenced off). I sipped my wine while I looked at the stars above. It felt good to be outside with a slight chill in the air. After cutting the broccoli I went in and prepared my meal in a mindful way.

As I sliced the broccoli I remembered pushing the tiny seedlings into the moist, cold ground some months earlier with the promise of summer ahead. I utilized all my senses as the tofu cooked and sputtered in the hot fat. I sipped wine and listened to NPR while I cooked. Things are good, I thought, and I skipped most of the chores I was to do that evening. Instead I watched a movie while I ate. The food tasted good–really good–and I was glad that I prepared it myself (for myself) instead of purchasing it. It was, I thought, just what I needed.

Broccoli & Bean Curd with Ginger, Garlic, & Hot Peppers
(This is a classic vegetarian dish but ti would be equally delicious with thin slices of chicken breast, pork, or shrimp). 
Yield: 4 servings

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 heads broccoli, cut into florets
12 ounces firm tofu, sliced into
1-inch pieces
1 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
1 small onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1-1/2 cups chicken broth

In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch. Mix to dissolve the cornstarch and set aside. Par-cook the broccoli in boiling water, then drain it and cool it under cold running water.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Carefully add the tofu and cook it on both sides until golden brown. Remove the tofu and transfer to absorbent paper. Carefully pour most of the oil into a separate pan (or other safe container), leaving just enough oil to stir fry in. Heat the pan and add the onion and bell pepper. Sauté the vegetables until they begin to caramelize. Add the garlic, ginger, and hot peppers. Sauté for another minute or two.

Stir in the chicken broth; bring it to a boil, then stir in the soy-cornstarch mixture. Bring it to a simmer, then add the broccoli and bean curd. Stir and toss it to evenly coat it with sauce. Continue to heat the pan just until the broccoli is heated throughout.

Urban Simplicity.

"Tis the Season…

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Yes, whether we like it or not, it is that time of year again. The weather is getting colder. And with it lighter foods give way to heartier ones, and one of my favorites is soup. I’ve posted this recipe before, or at least variations of it, but it is so delicious and easy to make I thought I’d post it again (it is a crowd-pleaser). The recipe–and the picture above–both utilize butternut squash, but this recipe works great with nearly any hard squash…it’s great with pumpkin. I add a bit of sugar in the recipe, but if you stay away from sugar simply omit it (or add more if you’d like it sweeter). A fresh chili or two is great also (but not included in the recipe)…spicy and sweet and creamy compliment each other. I also used heavy cream in the recipe, you can make it lighter with the use of milk or no cream at all, but it wouldn’t be as rich. And lastly, if you want to make this vegetarian or vegan , substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth (don’t use water, it would be too bland) and soy milk to replace the cream. Anyhow–and just to reiterate–this recipe is delicious and easy to make…and it’s a great one to experiment with as well.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Apple and Toasted Walnuts
Yield: 6 cups
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoonsflour
2 tablespoonssugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds peeled and diced butternut squash
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/2 cup small diced apple

Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat and add the onions. Sweat the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes or until they are translu­cent. Add the flour and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and diced pumpkin; sauté another minute. Add the stock and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is very tender. Add the cream and simmer for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Puree in a blender or food processor. After ladling the soup into warm bowls, garnish it with the toasted walnuts and diced apple.

Urban Simplicity.

Four Photos of Food

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OK, so I’m not sure what these have to do with the subject of Urban Simplicity other than the fact that they are photos of some of the things I do at work, which of course is a big part of my life (whether I like it or not). I took these over the last two days and thought they were interesting enough to share. Anyhow, from top-to-bottom, they are: semi-crudite sans sauce; jellied beet and goat cheese terrine; petite sandwich comprised of roast garlic and fig sausage (pork), topped with red onion marmalade and mango chutney, on a whole wheat roll; and lastly, chicken and duck mousseline flavored with curry and smoked paprika, and studded with ham, green peppercorns, and dried black currents.

Urban Simplicity.

Macaroni and Four Cheeses

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This is a variation of the classic American dish, Macaroni-and-Cheese. The variation from the classic recipe in this one is that I used four cheeses…cheddar, Parmesan, Fontinella, and Gorgonzola. It is–if I do say so myself–mouthwatering delicious. And while this may not be the heart-healthiest meal you can eat it is easy to make, versatile, and delicious (did I mention how delicious it is). The recipe is really simple. It’s basically a Bechamel sauce (milk sauce thickened with roux) into which one or more cheeses are added, and then it’s folded into cooked macaroni (or other pasta). It’s usually topped with something–I use a bit more cheese and breadcrumbs, but crushed crackers, potato chips, and even corn flakes are not uncommon–then the whole concoction is baked in the oven until browned and bubbly. This is most often served as a side dish, but other ingredients can be added to make it more of a main meal. Vegetables will lighten it up a bit (fresh spinach and chopped broccoli are good choices), and more decadent options include–but are not limited to–foods such as ham, sausage, crab, shrimp, or even lobster. And if you want to reduce the artery-clogging cholesterol level of the recipe, some or all of the milk/cream may be replaced with chicken broth. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and way better than the all-to-common boxed variety…and you can make it in bulk and freeze it in increments (as pictured below).

Macaroni-and-Cheese
(with four cheeses)
Makes about four servings
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup shredded cheddar
¼ cup crumbled Gorgonzola
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Fontinella
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Preheat and oven to 350F. Boil the macaroni in salted water, drain, and set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan then add the flour, stirring to form a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat—while stirring—for a few minutes, then add the milk, cream, salt, and pepper. Using a wire whisk, stir the sauce over medium-high heat until smooth. Continue stirring until it is heated and thick. Cook the sauce for a minute or two then remove from the heat. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and gently fold into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a lightly oiled skillet or other oven-proof baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Bake the macaroni-and-cheese for about 20 minutes, or until it is hot throughout, bubbling, and golden.

Three-Color Gazpacho Shooter

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Tonight we’ll serve these gazpacho shooters as a component of a cocktail party menu…pureed gazpacho made from perfectly ripe red and yellow tomatoes topped with yogurt and green onion puree. Easy to make, delicious, nutritious…and pleasing to look at. There’s a basic gazpacho recipe below (omit the breadcrumbs to puree it smooth) but if you’d like additional recipes or to read about cold soups and the stories behind them, read this article that I wrote for Artvoice a little while ago (the carrot vichyssoise recipe–included in the article–would be a delicious layer in the as well).

Gazpacho
Makes about 5 cups
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 English cucumber, diced
2 slices bread, crusts removed, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and pulse until desired consistency. Let stand 10 minutes; served chilled or at room temperature. Optional garnishes include but are not limited to: diced raw onion, hard cooked egg, parsley, and olives.

Gazpacho Blanco (receta y fotos)

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All I really need to say in this post is that this soup is really simple to make and delicious and that you should make it. But I’ll say just a  few more things. I made this for a luncheon I served at work today. It is a cool and refreshing soup, but also one that is bursting with flavor and nutrition. And it is quite possibly closer to the original Gazpacho recipe than the tomato based one we have come to know. If you’re interested in what I mean by this read this article that I wrote for Artvoice last month; it also includes additional recipes for cold soups and a bit of the history behind them. What is not included in the recipe below is the bright red squiggles on top of the soup. It’s pureed roasted red peppers (with a bit of salt and garlic). If you want to see how to roast a pepper on your home stove read this previous post (which has step-by-step instructions and pics).

Gazpacho Blanco
Makes about 6 cups
1/2 cup sliced almonds
4 slices bread, crusts removed, diced
2 cups yogurt
2 cloves garlic
2 jalapeno chilies, seeds removed and minced
1 pound green seedless grapes (about 3 cups)
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, diced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Spread the almonds on a small baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes in a moderate oven. Transfer the toasted almonds with the remaining ingredients to a bowl. Mix well and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Serve chilled or at room temperature

La Tomate

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Beautiful isn’t it. It is–or at least was–as big as my fist. I ate most of it for dinner as an tomato and raw onion sandwich on whole wheat bread slathered with mayonnaise and doused with a liberal amount of cracked black pepper. It was, as I ate it, still warm from the sun. Delicious. I’ve always enjoyed growing my own tomatoes, but this one in particular seems especially special to me because, as I’ve stated in an earlier post, I’ve had a difficult time with “blossom end rot” this year. But this is a sign, I think, that the plants are overcoming it (with a little help from me). I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyhow, if you want to learn a bit of history, lore, and a few recipes involving tomatoes, here’s a link to an article I wrote for Artvoice a couple years ago.

Urban Simplicity.

"Tis the Season…

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Beautiful isn’t it? The first tomato of the season. Within two weeks I’ll have a bushel of them. And the season seems especially early this year. Like much of the nation, Western New York State has been sweltering this summer and the garden plants are loving it. We–WNY–have a relatively short growing season, but I anticipate a longer one this year. And the efforts of planting a garden–in the front and rear lawns, or what once were lawns–is paying off…I shouldn’t have to purchase vegetables until the fall.

It is such an excellent feeling to walk out my front or rear door with a plate in one hand (and often a glass of wine in the other) and pick food for dinner. The last few nights I have been eating pasta in my favorite style of preparation…aglio e olio. And given the heat I’ve been cooking my dinner in my makeshift outdoor kitchen in the back yard and eating it under a grapevine. There is something really special about eating food in the very spot that you grew it. Anyhow, here’s a few photos and a basic recipe.

Pasta and Vegetables with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Chicken Broth 
(Old School Style)

Dice any vegetables that you have at hand, keeping onions, peppers, and others that you want to caramelize (brown) separate from the softer or more delicate ones. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for which to cook pasta. Heat a liberal amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add any vegetables to brown, such as onions, peppers, carrots, or zucchini. Cook for a few minutes, tossing and turning in the oil until they begin to brown. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and a pinch of hot pepper if you like; continue to cook for a couple minutes. Add a cup or so of chicken broth to the pan  and allow the vegetables to cook and soften as the broth reduces and concentrates. Meanwhile cook whatever pasta you like in the boiling water (slightly under cook it). Add softer vegetables to the pan–those that you don’t wish to caramelize–such as broccoli, green beans, spinach, tomatoes. Add a small addition of broth if necessary, along with a pinch of salt. When the vegetables are cooked and soft, and the broth has reduced and made a flavorful sauce, drain the past and add it to the vegetables. Gently shake the pan to toss the vegetables, broth, and pasta together. Allow the past to finish cooking and absorb some of the broth and flavors. Just before remove the pan from the heat stir in coarsely chopped basil leaves and grated Parmesan cheese.

Urban Simplicity.

Pesto!

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You’ve likely had this sauce/condiment before…maybe you purchased it or had it at a restaurant; or maybe you’ve made it. But with the summer upon us, gardens–and supermarket shelves–are bursting with fresh herbs. Originally this was made by pounding everything with a mortar and pestle (the Italian word pesto loosely translates as “pounded”), but today a few second zip in a blender does the job. The recipe below is a variation on the original, which is usually based on basil alone, but for variation I’ve used five fresh herbs. Sealed and refrigerated, pesto will keep for weeks…but you’ll likely eat it first 🙂
5 Herb Pesto
Makes about a cup-and-a-half
1 cup basil
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup oregano
1/4 cup fresh tarragon
1/4 cup  minced chives
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
Combine the herbs, garlic, nuts, and olive oil in a blender; puree until smooth. Add the cheese and  processor another 10 seconds.
 

Clams Casino Recipe

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This is a really simple and delicious recipe if you enjoy clams (as I do), and if you don’t mind some extra cholesterol in your diet…everything in moderation, right? I wish I could follow my own advice. The beauty of these is that they can be made in advance and just pop them in the oven when friends or guests arrive; they can also be frozen.  Anyhow, the recipe is below.

Yield: 36 pieces
4 slices bacon, minced
1/2 small onion, peeled and minced
1/2 green bell pepper, minced
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
4 ounces fresh bread crumbs
36 littleneck clams, scrubbed
Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until just done, drain most of the fat from the pan, then add the onion and bell pepper and cook for an additional couple of minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco sauce. Stir in the breadcrumbs and transfer the topping to a small bowl and refrigerate it for 30 minutes. Using a clam knife, open the clams and loosening the meat and leaving it in the bottom shell; discard the top shell. Preheat an oven to 375F. Arrange the clams on a baking sheet and top them with the chilled stuffing. Bake the clams for about 10-15 minutes, or until browned and bubbling. Serve hot.

Baba Ghanouj and Hummus…two similar recipes but uniquely different

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These recipes are equally delicious and simple to make. And while they may look similar their flavors are somewhat different. One, of course, is based on chickpeas (the Arabic word for chickpea is hummus, or hummos) and the other is based on roasted eggplant, which gives the recipe a slightly smokey flavor. If you’d like more Lebanese recipes or to learn a bit more about their fine cuisine, here’s a link to a story I wrote many moons ago.

Hummus bil Tahina

3 cups chickpeas
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 cup tahini (sesame butter)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Purée the chickpeas and garlic in a food processor, add the tahini, lemon juice, cold water, salt, and cayenne pepper; purée another minute or two until the mixture is very smooth.
Baba Ghanouj

3 medium eggplant
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup tahini
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt

Split the eggplant lengthwise; brush them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the eggplant cut-side down on a sheetpan and roast at 450 for 20-30 minutes or until the eggplant is very soft. Allow the eggplant to cool to room temperature. When they are at room temperature scoop out the flesh of the eggplant with a spoon and discard the skins. Place the flesh of the eggplant in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes. Place the drained eggplant in a food processor along with the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt, cayenne pepper, ground cumin and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Puree until the mixture is smooth and thick. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

Urban Simplicity

How to Candy a Kumquat and other Fruits

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This is a basic recipe that can be used for nearly any hearty citrus fruit. You simply simmer the fruit in a basic simple syrup for a few minutes and allow it to cool. It turns even the most bitter or sour fruit into something soft and sweet…once cooked you eat not just the fruit’s innards but its skin and rind as well. The once sour and bitter fruit can be nibbled as is, or used as an elegant dessert garnish. And a bi-product is that you’ll also have a delicious flavored syrup. This is recipe equally good with sliced lemons, limes, or even grapefruit…but other unripe fruits–such as peaches or pears–are delicious as well (they just need a bit more care lest the fruit breaks apart during cooking. Left in the syrup the fruit will keep for weeks in the refrigerator…that’s if you don’t eat it first.

Candied Kumquats

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4 cups kumquats, sliced lengthwise

Combine the sugar and water together in a heavy sauce-pot. Mix it to dissolve the sugar, then bring it to a boil and cook the sugar for a couple minutes. Add the kumquats, bring them to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the kumquats for 5 or 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

Urban Simplicity.

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