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Fingerling Potatoes, Salmon, and One More Thing…

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“Rational habits permit of discarding nothing left over, and the use to which leftovers (and their economic allies, the wild things of nature) are put is often at the heart of a cooking’s character.”

~Richard Olney 

So first a couple things. This post is about this recipe, of course, but it’s also about not using recipes at all. Adapting to what one has on hand. What I had for dinner last night, and then lunch this after noon is an example of this. Let’s first talk about the meal pictured above, last night’s dinner.

This is a simple stove-top skillet-roast meal that can be made out of nearly anything. The main thing is to add the ingredients in proper succession…the longest cooking, heartier items first, the more delicate quick cooking items later. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Here’s how I made this.

I first heated a large cast iron skillet with enough olive oil to glaze the bottom. When it was hot, I added a handful of whole fingerling potatoes, covered the skillet with a lid, then turned the flame down, giving the pan a shake every minute or so for a few minutes. After removing lid I added a handful of large diced onion, the replaced the lid. After shaking the pan a few more times I removed the lid; the onions were just beginning to brown. Then I added a couple diced salmon fillets, a few broccoli florets, a pinch each of whole fennel seed, crushed hot pepper, and sea salt. After replacing the lid I let the pan rest over the low flame while the fish caramelized, the broccoli steamed and the spices perfumed everything. After a few minutes I removed the lid for the last time and added a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, just enough to “loosen everything.” The juice evaporated almost immediately, and after a couple quick shakes of the pan I quickly transferred everything to a large plate.

Mhm…you bet, yes it was delicious. Simple, nutritious, and delicious. But as is my way, I made more than I could eat in one sitting, so this brings me to today’s lunch. 

Some people find leftovers unappetizing, I don’t. Normally I’ll reheat last night’s meal for today’s lunch or another dinner without issue. But when I looked at least night’s dinner in the fridge the first thing that came to mind was pancakes. So that’s what I did. 

I placed the ingredients in a food processor, pulsed them coarse, then transferred it to a bowl and kneaded in a couple eggs and a few tablespoons whole wheat flour. No seasoning was needed as it was already well seasoned. Anyhow, After pan-frying them in olive oil, I ate them with sliced avocado, and a couple tablespoons mayonnaise which I mixed with sriracha; a sliced apple rounded out the lunch. Not bad for leftovers.

Urban Simplicity.

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Cookin’ Like Summertime….

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Fresh tomatoes. Beautiful aren’t they? But you may be asking yourself what am I doing with fresh tomatoes in January. Well, I work in a grocery store. And as we all know grocery stores portray food as if everything were always in season. But also, one of the benefits of working in the particular store that I do is that food that is culled from the shelves and deemed unsalable (for a variety of reasons) is offered to the employees before being given to various organizations. This said, there were a bunch of packages of fresh tomatoes in which the seals were broken, thus they were not able to be sold. So this is how I found myself in possession of these beautiful tomatoes and cooked dinner with them on a cold, grey, and rainy January evening.

Anyhow, my son came over for dinner last evening and I made us Pasta Fra Diavolo (to read about the origin and etymology of the recipe, read this post). There is a recipe below for this dish, but the one that I made with these tomatoes was slightly different in that I used fresh tomatoes. The fresh tomatoes were first processed and then simmered down to a thick puree. The recipe that is listed is actually more appropriate for this time of year as it uses canned tomatoes. And as usual, this recipe is not carved in stone, it is simply a suggestion. Add or delete or interchange ingredients to suite your tastes.

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Penne Fra Diavolo with Halibut

Yield: 4 portions

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 anchovy fillets

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons minced parsley

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup red wine

2 cups tomato purée

1 pound diced halibut

1/2 pound penne rigate

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Combine the olive oil, onion, garlic, anchovies, red pepper, basil, parsley, and salt in a skillet over medium heat. Stir and mash the ingredients with the back of a wooden spoon until the onion and garlic is translucent but not browned. Stir in the wine and simmer it for a minute or two, then add the tomato puree. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook it for 5 or 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick thin it with a little water. While the sauce is simmering boil the pasta until al dente. Stir the fish into the sauce, bring it back to a simmer and poach it for about 5 minutes. When the fish is cooked gently fold in the pasta. Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest for about 5 minutes, allowing the flavors of the sauce and fish permeate the pasta.

Urban Simplicity.

Sweet Potato Latke with Cheddar and Jalapeño

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After scrounging around my fridge and kitchen counter the other evening I came up with the ingredients for the following recipe. So I made these. I ate half of them, then my son stopped over and ate the other half. Super easy to make. Super delicious. Slightly sweet, slightly spicy. Try to eat just one. I dare you.

Sweet Potato Latke with Cheddar and Jalapeño

Makes about 12

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ medium onion, sliced thin
2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
4 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
canola oil for pan frying

Combine all of the ingredients except the canola oil and mix well. Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Using a large spoon, drop dollops of the latke batter into the skillet and flatten them with the back of the spoon. Cook them on both sides until golden brown and cooked throughout. Transfer to absorbent paper.  

Urban Simplicity.

Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Red Curry.

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This is another recipe that is about the method and not necessarily the ingredients. What I mean is that this is a really basic recipe where the ingredients can be changed to your liking while using the same seasoning (or similar seasonings) but using the same simple stir-fry method to prepare them. Anyhow, this is really easy to make and super delicious.

 

Asparagus and Bean Curd with Thai Curry

Makes 4 servings

1 package extra firm tofu, drained

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra to oil a pan

1 onion, sliced

1 red bell pepper, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons red Thai curry

¼ chicken or vegetable broth

2 tablespoons soy sauce

12 leaves fresh basil, course chopped

Preheat an oven to 400F. Dice the tofu and spread it onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake the tofu for about 30 minutes, turning it every ten minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove the tofu from the oven and set aside. Heat the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then add the sliced onion and bell pepper; stir-fry for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and cook a couple minutes longer. Add the asparagus, cook for a minute or two, then add the red curry, mixing it with the vegetables. Add the cooked tofu to the pan, along with the vegetable broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, tossing all the ingredients together, then stir in the basil and remove from the heat.

The Spice is Right…Two Recipes Inspired by the Near East

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So one thing you likely know about me by now if you’ve visited here before is that I like ethnic food. A lot. Herbs and spices can change everything. The most mundane foods (like chicken and lentils, for example) become something really special when seasoned with exotic spices. Anyhow, I made these for staff lunch today and served it with saffron-infused brown rice…delicious. There is a simple curry recipe at the bottom of this post but a good quality store-bought brand would be fine…or use your own flavor combination. Enjoy.

Tandoori Chicken Stir-Fry

Makes 4 servings

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup plain yogurt

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 small onion, sliced

4 boneless chicken breasts, sliced

oil for sauteing

black sesame seeds for garnish

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl (except the oil for sauteing and the black sesame seeds) and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for one hour. Heat a small amount of oil over high heat in a large heavy skillet (cast iron works great). When to oil is hot, add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Allow the chicken to cook for a minute before stirring, Then gently stir the chicken and cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, or until lightly browned and thoroughly cooked. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with black sesame seeds.

Curried Red Lentils with Potatoes and Peas

Makes 4-6 servings

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons curry powder

1½ cups red lentils

3 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon salt

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

½ cup peas

Heat the oil in a heavy sauce-pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and green pepper and saute for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute a minute longer. Stir in the curry and cook it for a minute or two, and then stir in the lentils, broth, tomatoes, and salt. Bring the liquid to a boil then lower it to a low simmer; cook the lentils for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and lemon juice and simmer another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are thoroughly cooked. Stir in the peas and remove the pot from the heat. 

 

Simple Madras-Style Curry Powder

Makes about 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons ground cumin 

3 tablespoons quality chili powder

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground fenugreek

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Mix all the spices thoroughly and store away from direct sunlight in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

When Buffaloes Fly…recollections of chicken wings

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By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn’t think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I’ve previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I’m sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef’s request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don’t need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get…simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing…butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements).

Traditional Wings

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce.