Posts tagged meat

Snow Day

Last Wednesday morning I shuffled to the window in my robe and slippers, took one look at the fat, drippy snowflakes swirling around outside, and immediately gave myself a snow day. It was the morning after my birthday, after all, and as a child of February I figured I deserved it. So while thick piles of snow quickly covered the brownstones, trees, and sidewalks outside my Brooklyn apartment, I huddled under a blanket inside. I passed the hours drinking tea, watching Lost, and checking my work email here and there. When I finally finished lazing around on the couch, I made my way over to the kitchen and started cooking.

Cold, snowy days call for slow-cooked comfort food, and as soon as I heard the weather reports earlier in the week I began planning the perfect snow day dinner. I wanted something warm and rustic, a dish to make us forget the chilling winds and falling flakes outside. Florence Fabricant’s Chicken Baked with Lentils, a recipe I had saved for just such an occasion, came to mind immediately, and I made sure I had all the ingredients on hand before the snow started falling.

In this recipe, chicken thighs are nestled in an earthy cloud of cumin-spiced lentils, pancetta, radicchio, and chicken stock. Piled into a baking dish or casserole, the mixture cooks away for a tranquil hour in the oven, the liquid slowly reducing into a saucelike consistency. Soon enough, the comforting aroma of baked chicken infused my apartment, and the snow seemed very far away indeed.

When finally pulled from the oven, the spicy lentils become a complex mix of smoky (provided by the pancetta), tangy (from the radicchio), and sweet (the onions), while the chicken remains moist and tender, absorbing the essence of the lentils in a more subtle way. Dominating this dish in terms of both flavor and quantity, the legumes retain a hint of firmness, and provide a supportive bed for the meaty chicken thighs. Together they’re a hearty, one-pot wonder of a meal, and if we’re lucky enough to have another snow day, I may even have to make this again.

Chicken Baked with Lentils (adapted from Florence Fabricant’s recipe in the New York Times)

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 thin slice of pancetta (less than 1/4 lb)
  • 4 chicken thighs, patted dry
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup of finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup finely chopped radicchio
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup of French green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup water*

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or another ovenproof casserole dish. Add the pancetta and cook on medium heat until golden. Remove the pancetta and set aside. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add them to the pot, skin side down. Sear until golden on medium-high heat. Remove from the pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Remove one tablespoon of fat from the pan and set aside. Pour out the rest of the fat and discard. Return the tablespoon of fat to the pan.

Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook on medium until soft and translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the cumin. Add the radicchio, vinegar, and sage. Sauté briefly. Add lentils, stock, water, and cooked pancetta.

*I used 1 cup chicken stock plus 1/2 cup water because I cheated and used prepared chicken stock from a box. When I use commercial stock I like to dilute it a little bit with water. If you are using homemade chicken stock, feel free to use 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and disregard the water.

Return the chicken to the pan, bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for about an hour, checking on the lentils occasionally. Cook until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Lentils should be saucelike, but not soupy. Add more stock if necessary. Add more salt and pepper if necessary, then serve. Recipe serves 3 to 4 people, or 2 to 3 people with leftovers. Enjoy!

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Artichoke Christina Barcelona

I am dying to go to Spain, particularly Barcelona. I’ve been obsessed for months now, reading Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s amazing mystery The Shadow of the Wind. The movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, viewed on my last plane flight, only fueled the fires of my travel bug.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trip happening in my near future, so I’ve tried to indulge in the next best thing: food. I started by experimenting with Food & Wine’s squid- and chorizo-infused farro salad, a recipe that emits its own particular brand of Spanish spirit, at least in my mind. Although farro is usually associated with Italian cuisine, the addition of smoky chorizo and plump squid transforms this dish into something that might be inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not expecting to find this meal in Spain, but in my Brooklyn kitchen, it did just fine.

farrosalad

This dish has an almost mysterious edge to it, introducing me to exotic flavors I don’t normally encounter in my everyday life. Jim and I used more squid than called for in the original recipe, as our fishmonger sold it by the pound and we didn’t want to waste it. We substituted dried oregano for fresh marjoram, and at the end we couldn’t resist throwing some fresh arugula into the mix. The peppery greens added a welcome note of freshness to the combination of smoky meat, chewy squid, and nutty grains.

We ate this for two nights in a row before heading out with friends to Soccarat, New York City’s new paella bar. Jim and I had amusingly observed that although our salad used farro instead of rice, the rest of the ingredients were quite similar to the traditional paella we were about to enjoy. No matter. At this festive sliver of a restaurant, we shared the arroz negro, a pan of luscious short-grain, squid-inked rice filled with shrimp, scallops, and cuttlefish. After one bite, I can honestly say that it transported us—in mind and spirit—to Spain. The word “soccarat” actually refers to the caramelized rice on the bottom of a perfect paella, and it was indeed the best part of the dish. Our waitress even scraped the pan for us with a large spoon, to make sure we didn’t miss any of it. As we ate one forkful after next, leaving nothing in the pan, I realized that my Spanish obsession isn’t over. Between the farro salad and our visit to Soccarat, I am more than ready to go. Where’s my suitcase?

Recipe for Farro Salad with Squid, Chorizo, and Arugula (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, April 2009)

  • 1 cup farro
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry chorizo, skinned and sliced (about 2 small links of chorizo)
  • 3/4 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings, large tentacles cut in half (We used 1 pound of squid, but 3/4 is probably just right)
  • salt
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper

Place the farro in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the farro, cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chorizo and cook until sizzling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and cook, stirring, until just white throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of the rings will start to turn in a bit when cooked as well. Do not overcook the squid. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a bit of salt.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chorizo and the squid to the farro. Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, vinegar. Tear the arugula leaves in half and add them to the salad. Add a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Blogworthy or Not: Skirt Steak Fajitas

One of the more stressful aspects about maintaining a food blog is determining whether or not a dish is “blogworthy.” Every time I consider writing about a meal I’ve cooked at home, I ask myself if it’s fascinating enough to blog about or if it’s a dish everyone has seen before. For example, a meal as novel as Goan shrimp curry is absolutely blogworthy and posted about immediately. But weeknight staples like spaghetti with garlic, parmesan, and olive oil, or turkey burgers? They don’t usually make the cut. To be honest, sometimes I experiment with a new recipe just so I have something—anything—to blog about.

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But often the most familiar dish in the world is all I want to cook. And in rare instances, an ordinary, almost banal meal is even worth writing about. That’s how I feel about the skirt steak fajitas I made this week. After a weekend of eating out, I was anxious to cook, and to create something simple and full of flavor. I turned to skirt steak, a tough cut of meat that tenderizes wonderfully when marinated while also taking on the flavors of the marinade’s ingredients. I rely on three staples for my marinade: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lime juice. Because I had made this recipe a million times before (ok, maybe 10 times), I knew I could rely on this powerful mix of flavors.

fajitaclosed

Let’s get one thing straight here: This is Tex-Mex via my Brooklyn kitchen. As you can tell, my skirt steak fajitas are not exotic or elegant, and I make no claims to fajita authenticity. But wrapped in a soft corn tortilla with fresh guacamole, crisp cilantro, charred onions, and smoky peppers, the lime-infused steak more than satisfied my need for a fresh, simple dinner. For me, that was enough to make my fajitas blogworthy.

Recipe for Christina’s Skirt Steak Fajitas

  • 1 2-lb skirt steak
  • juice squeezed from 1/2 of a lime
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 red pepper, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 onion, sliced lengthwise
  • fresh guacamole
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 6-8 large corn tortillas

In a shallow baking dish, mix together 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, and the fresh lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add skirt steak, turning once to coat. If you need to, you can cut the skirt steak into smaller pieces to make it fit in the baking dish. Marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator, turning the meat after 30 minutes.

When the meat is almost finished marinating, take it out of the refrigerator. Preheat the broiler. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until onions have caramelized and peppers start to soften, about 10 -15 minutes, stirring once in a while. Set aside when done.

While the peppers and onions are cooking, remove the meat from the marinade and cook it under the broiler. Cook for about 5 minutes per side. (The meat will be about medium to medium-well done at this point. Adjust cooking time to your preference.) Remove from the broiler and let it rest for 5 minutes. Slice the meat into thin strips, at an angle.

Wrap your tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and assemble the fajitas to your liking: Place a few spoonfuls of peppers and onions with 3-5 slices of skirt steak in the center of the tortilla. Top with fresh guacamole and chopped cilantro. Wrap. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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A Stroll through the Mercato Centrale

Ciao, tutti! I’m finally back from my quick trip to Italy—Florence, to be exact. Although I was working most of the time, I did have a few free hours here and there. During one of these periods I decided to visit Florence’s Mercato Centrale. Located in a two-floor, nineteenth-century cast iron building near San Lorenzo, this amazing array of Italian food stalls is known as the best food market in the city. Over the course of a few hours I strolled around and around, up and down, trying to take it all in.

stand

As I walked through the halls of the ground floor, I immediately noticed the piles of fresh produce at several different stands. From cabbage to radicchio, artichokes to squash, seasonality was on full display. The cold temperature inside kept everything fresh, and I was also impressed by the clean, pristine hallways of the market.

produce_close2

Although my eyes first turned to the vibrant fruits and vegetables, a more thorough investigation of the ground floor revealed an assortment of vendors selling fresh and prepared foods. Baskets of dried porcini mushrooms peeked from between rows of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Fresh bread rested behind glass display cases, away from eager hands. Every time I turned a corner I encountered something I wanted to eat.

pasta2

Panzerotti, ravioli, cappellacci—all of these fresh pastas stuffed with ingredients such as nuts, cheese, spinach, and mushrooms called to me, as did the gnocchi and gnudi, while I lingered by their display cases. Without my own kitchen in Florence all I could do was look and imagine how they would taste. I settled on three bags of dried, spaghetti-like pici instead, mentally planning a special pasta dinner back in Brooklyn.

driedfruit

I’m usually not a fan of dried fruit, but I couldn’t shy away from the colorful array I encountered during my tour. Kiwi, mango, papaya, melon, and apricot varieties kept me satisfied during the rest of the week at work, whenever my stomach grumbled and I was hours away from a meal.

feet1

Also on the ground floor were the butchers. Some butcher stands simply focused on conventional cuts of poultry, lamb, and beef. Others offered tripe and additional types of offal, and even more adventurous products such as pigs’ feet. Dressed in white coats and wielding huge knives, the butchers chopped and sliced at their wares for the bustling crowd. Every part of the animal was for sale; nothing went to waste. Chickens were left with their necks and feet intact, so there was no mistaking that the meat had come from an actual animal.

cheese

Rounding out my tour of the first floor were the cheese and cured meat vendors. Huge chunks of parmigiano-reggiano, prosciutto, and different types of salumi beckoned me from all corners, and I finally bought some salamina cinghiale (wild boar salami) for Jim. I quickly walked past the few fish mongers located together at one end of the building, trying to avoid the smell of fresh fish in the morning.

spices

A short climb up the iron staircase to the sprawling second floor revealed more produce and herbs. Towers of citrus, greens, and other vegetables mingled with sun-dried tomatoes, salted capers, and dried herbs such as basil, rosemary, and parsley. Since I couldn’t buy any of the fresh produce I just admired the first zucchini of the season and marveled at the varieties of squash, apples, and lettuce.

porchetta1

After a few laps around the building I had worked up quite an appetite. I returned downstairs to the ground floor and joined the long line at a crowded stand called Nerbone, where I picked up a porchetta sandwich (4€).  It didn’t look like much—just a few slices of pork slapped into a roll—but oh my, was it wonderful. The soft, juicy meat nestled into a crispy roll quickly disappeared as I eagerly finished my sandwich. It was the perfect way to end my stroll of Florence’s Mercato Centrale. 

Mercato Centrale, open Monday through Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm, near San Lorenzo on Via dell’Ariento in Florence, Italy.

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Valentine’s Day Hits and Misses

Poor Jim. February deals him a double whammy each year: First comes my birthday on the 9th, then Valentine’s Day less than a week later. To take some pressure off this celebratory one-two punch, instead of going out we cook dinner at home on Valentine’s Day. Some meals turn out wonderfully, like last year’s rack of lamb and chocolate pots-de-crème. This year was, well…okay. Let’s start with not-so-great and save the best for last:

lambshanks

The Miss: Greek-Style Braised Lambs Shanks
I knew I wanted to make some sort of braised meat for the main course. Doesn’t a slow-cooked, rich piece of red meat sound like the perfect foundation for a romantic meal? (Sorry, vegetarians.) I stubbornly thought so. Lamb shank, a tough cut that responds well to braising, had been on my to-cook list for a long time. I sent Jim off to the butcher with a wave and a smile while I looked for a recipe.

To my surprise, my cookbooks were no help, providing not a single recipe for my desired meal. I turned to the trusty Internet and came across these Greek-style braised lamb shanks. (I still don’t really understand what is so Greek about this recipe; there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly Greek about the dish apart from the lamb. Whatever, I’m not here to argue with Epicurious.)

I’ll cut to the chase: I halved the recipe from 6 shanks to 3, and in a dumb move I decided to reduce the braising liquid without reducing the cooking time. So, after 2 hours in the oven, my extravagant, Merlot-based sauce reduced down to almost nothing, resulting more in a roasted lamb shank dinner instead of the braised-meat-falling-off-the-bone-and-swimming-in-a-deep-romantic-sauce type meal I was hoping for.

Now I am also wondering if there was a mistake in the recipe, which instructed me to cook the shanks in the oven uncovered. Aren’t most braised dishes cooked with the cover firmly in place in order to prevent evaporation of the cooking liquid? The shanks tasted fine, but I have learned my braising lesson. Oh, we also made some lemon orzo and a spinach salad on the side. sorbet2Meh.

The Hit: Blood Orange Sorbet
Jim gave me a copy of Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook for my birthday, and we decided to break it in with the recipe for blood orange sorbet. Making this frosty treat gave me the opportunity to try yet another birthday gift I received, this time from my sister: the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.

As always, simple recipes yield the best results. After squeezing the juice from several crimson blood oranges, we mixed it with some (a lot of) sugar and threw the entire mixture in the fridge to cool. About half an hour later we put the ice cream attachment to work on the mixer. We didn’t have to lift a finger. The KitchenAid simply twirled away for about 20 minutes, and suddenly our fresh, sparkling dessert was ready. We placed it in the freezer for the end of our meal. 

And as I mentioned above, we truly saved the best for last. Cool, sweet, and simply pretty to look at, this refreshing sorbet cheered me up after my braising adventure gone bad. I can’t wait to see what other kind of sorbets and ice creams we come up with. Maybe I should start planning for next year. Jim, are you ready yet?

Recipe for Blood Orange Sorbet (adapted from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 6 medium blood oranges
  • 1 regular medium orange
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • fresh mint, for garnish

Wash 1 or 2 of the blood oranges and grate 2 tablespoons of zest from them. Halve and juice all of the oranges, discarding any seeds that fall in along the way. This will leave you with about 1 cup of juice. Put the orange juice and the zest in medium bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Refrigerate the mixture until it is very cold, around 40 degrees. Add the mixture to the ice-cream churner or machine. Churn the mixture until it starts crystallizing, about 15 to 30 minutes. You can stop churning it once it has reached your desired consistency. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place it in the freezer until firm. When ready, scoop the sorbet into 2 bowls and garnish with fresh mint. (The sorbet can be stored in the freezer for 2 days.) Serves 2. Enjoy!

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Dinner at Buttermilk Channel

During the weekend I love to stay home. I know that might sound boring, especially for a young(ish) woman living in New York City, but I can’t help it. All of my favorite shops and restaurants just happen to be within walking distance of my Brooklyn apartment. Months can pass without Jim and I visiting the same spot twice. When the new restaurant Buttermilk Channel opened in the old Cafe Scaramouche space on Court Street, it took us several weeks to get there, but we recently took a long stroll around the corner to check it out.

All memories of the dark, drab cafe disappeared as soon as we walked through the door. Bright white walls tempered by gentle candlelight, a beautiful wood bar, and multiple windows facing the street immediately made us feel at home. Helmed by chef Ryan Angulo, previously of the Stanton Social, the restaurant embraces the seasonal, local food movement of the moment while also celebrating the unique spirit of the neighborhood.

Take, for example, the “snacks” section of the menu. Buttermilk Channel is serving handmade mozzarella from Caputo’s Fine Foods—my favorite Italian specialty store just a few blocks away—with chunks of buttered bread, basil, and a wonderfully salty anchovy sauce ($5). I loved experiencing one of my regular Caputo’s purchases in an entirely new way. Jim and I need to return to the restaurant for an Esposito’s sausage sandwich ($10), but we have no doubt about its greatness, as we are frequent visitors to this Court Street shop as well. Even the drinks display local pride: The beer list is firmly rooted in New York, while the U.S. based wine list offers a glass of Merlot from Brooklyn Oenology ($10).

squash-tart2

The rest of the extensive menu branches out beyond the neighborhood to offer intriguing twists on comfort food. Stand-out appetizers included spice-rubbed baby back ribs, their meat so tender it fell gently off the bone ($10). A delicata squash tart was a light, buttery surprise, as I had been expecting a quiche-like dish ($9). Instead, I received a ring of sweet, roasted squash perched on top of a flaky crust, accompanied by smooth buttermilk ricotta and a green salad.

Without a doubt the star of the second courses is the fried chicken with cheddar waffles and vegetable slaw ($18). Juicy meat nestled in a thick, crisp, buttermilk coating was perfect on a cold winter night, although the waffles were a bit bland in comparison. I also tried the warm lamb and romaine salad, a combination of tart capers, cauliflower, lamb, lettuce, and a soft-boiled egg ($14). As one of the lighter dishes on the menu it held up well against more robust fare such as the braised beef short rib and anchovy mashed potatoes. Similar to the baby back rib appetizer, the dark, tender rib meat simply dripped off the bone and onto my fork, which also returned time and time again for the tangy spiced potatoes ($22).

ribs_adjusted

For dessert I couldn’t deter myself from Doug’s pecan pie sundae ($7). Unfortunately, the caramel simply overwhelmed the dish, and it sorely needed a pie crust. Apple cider donuts—warm, fried, and spicy, and served with their donut holes—fared a little better ($7). Perhaps next time I’ll try one of the Blue Marble ice creams, another one of my neighborhood favorites ($7). After all, it’s much more convenient to walk to around the corner than to Atlantic Avenue. Although for Buttermilk Channel, I’d be willing to make the trek.

Buttermilk Channel, 524 Court Street at Huntington Street, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-852-8490

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Too Many Meatballs

meatballs2

A few years ago, restaurants in New York City couldn’t open without meatballs. From the Little Owl’s adorable sliders and Apizz’s ricotta-enhanced monsters in Manhattan, to over the Brooklyn Bridge for Sicilian-style spheres at Frankie’s 457 Spuntino, the city’s restaurants were offering all meatballs, all the time.

A look through my own recipe archive shows that I’ve also done some experimenting with the little guys. For our annual holiday party I’ve made both the pork-and-veal and beef-and-pork versions of Mark Bittman’s polpetti, otherwise known as tiny meatballs. They were so popular they disappeared as soon as they hit the table. And I never told you about Mario Batali’s turkey meatballs, which I made last year: The rosemary was so overpowering that I couldn’t bring myself to write about them. (Actually, I just looked for the recipe online. In contrast to the page I originally printed out, the current version online is completely different and does not mention rosemary at all. Hmm, very suspicious.) So far, my go-to meatball recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated’s America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook. It combines both ground beef and pork with breadcrumbs, parmesan, egg, and a touch of yogurt, creating rich, soft versions of this favorite comfort food.

But last week I tried another recipe, this one inspired by Luisa over at the Wednesday Chef. She had written a post about some marvelous pork and ricotta meatballs that she tried at a restaurant called A16 in San Francisco. (I guess that meatball trend also stretched out to the West Coast.) After reading about Luisa’s desire to replicate the meatballs at home, I decided I needed to try them too and searched for the recipe published in a recent issue of Food & Wine.

This recipe calls for ground pork, plus pancetta, ricotta, and other traditional elements such as parsley, breadcrumbs, and oregano. The meatballs are baked, not fried, in sea of crushed peeled tomatoes for 2 hours. When they finally emerged from the oven they weren’t as browned as we expected, but oh were they cushiony and rich, bursting with pork flavors from both the ground pork and pancetta. Light and soft, swimming in a thick sauce, they were the perfect food for yet another snowy evening at home.

Jim and I didn’t adjust the recipe at all, meaning that we wound up with enough meatballs for a family of six. We ate some leftovers with spaghetti later in the week and froze the rest for a weekend lunch in the near future. But it wasn’t a problem. I think most people, whether eating at home or in a restaurant, would agree: You can never have too many meatballs.

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