Posts tagged comfort food

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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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.

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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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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).

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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).

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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

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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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