Comfort Food

Homemade mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. I use Mark Bittman’s recipe except for one key alteration: twice as much cheese. For this recpe I used manchego, parmesan, and roasted red peppers. You can use any other cooked vegetable and/or cheese that melts well.

I have also been loving cabbage and apples. It’s cheap and healthy. Cabbage does really well with some acidity and sweetness; you could also use pears or a drop of jam.

 

Ingredients:

3 cups manchego, shredded

1 cup parmesan, shredded

2 cups 2% milk

Lb pasta

3 tbspn butter

3 tbspn flour

2 red peppers, roasted

salt & pepper

bay leaves

Preparation: to roast red peppers brush with oil and cook in 400 degree oven until outsides have blistered. Let cool and peel skin. Cut them into small pieces and set aside. Scald milk with bay leaves and let rest. Cook pasta (al dente), drain, rinse in cold water. Make a roux by heating butter over medium low heat until foamy and then adding flour. Whisk constantly until the roux is brown (this takes a few minutes). Slowly add milk to roux, whisking all the while. Once all the milk is incorporated mix in the cheese, peppers, salt & pepper. Pour into buttered baking dish and top with breadcrumbs. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes. You can make this dish ahead of time and leave it in the fridge.

Tip:  I use one pot by pouring the scalded milk back into my pyrex measuring cup and then make roux. I hate doing dishes.

 

Cabbage with apples:

1 head cabbage

3 apples

fennel seeds

olive oil

garlic, smashed

salt & pepper

Preparation: slice apples and cabbage to a similar size. In a pan heat olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the garlic. Add apples, fennel seeds (crushed between your finger tips), salt & pepper. Then add cabbage. Cover the pan if you’re in a hurry. Cook until tender.

 

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Something Like Gumbo

In my fridge I had some shrimp, trout, a couple of pork cutlets, and leftover rice. All signs pointed to gumbo. My mom’s friend, Jen, is from Louisiana and makes fantastic chicken gumbo. Mine does not hold a candle to hers. My friend, Kylie, learned to make proper gumbo at a cooking class in New Orleans. I did not call either of these ladies for advice and instead winged it.

I made fish stock from the trout bones and head, shrimp peels, bay leaves, a dried sweet pepper, a garlic clove, salt and pepper. For stock: cover whatever is in the pot with water, add spices, bring to a boil, reduce on medium heat, scoop off foam, and strain.

My proteins (leftover from a pan-fried meal the night before) were dredged in flour. This plus the okra’s natural stickiness served as thickener.

Inauthentic but tasty. Wash it down with an equally full and spicy red or an Abita.

Ingredients:

pork, cut into cubes

shrimp, cut into pieces

trout, cut into pieces

fish stock

cooked rice

onion

okra

chili powder

butter

salt & pepper

Preparation: In a large pot heat butter on medium-high heat. Add onions and saute. Then brown the pork. Add okra and cook until tender and sticky. Cover with stock. Add fish towards the end (it cooks quickly). Serve over rice or add it to the pot. Spice as you go. Serve with favorite hot sauce (mine is chipotle Tabasco).

We Have Some Catching Up to Do

Based on the state of my coffee table I have been having too much fun. There have been so many meals and drinks I’ve wanted to tell you about but was fully absorbed in the moment and did not snap a photo. I spent a special afternoon with a filet, pommes frites, and a glass of Cabernet Franc (and my friends) at Chouquet’s. If you enjoy a rare steak and outdoor seating go there. After lunch we grabbed dessert from Citizen Cake and enjoyed it in a nearby park overlooking the city.

The pink one is some sort of spongey cassis (black currant) flavored cake with a merengue topping. The other is a chocolate and salted caramel tart that was dense but delicious.

I feel sorry for everyone living in the Northeast right now.

Drink in the New Year

Announcement: I am starting sommelier school at the end of the month.

What is a sommelier and what do they do? A sommelier is a wine steward. Sommeliers are typically responsible for wine service, creating wine lists for restaurants, and pairing wine with food.

I have been drinking wine since I was a baby. When my brother and I were kids we drank wine at the dinner table (first mixed with water and later straight-up). In my adult life I thoroughly enjoy a glass of red after work. Even though I am familiar with and appreciate wine I know little about it. I don’t know much about how wine is grown, processed, or stored. I can’t taste delicate notes of blackberry, leather, or dust in a glass of cab. Hopefully sommelier school will help me to develop my palate for drinking and eating (allowing me to identify more subtle flavors).

My wine education began this weekend in Sonoma. I went to Gundlach Bundshu and its sister winery, Bartholomew Park Winery. At Gundlach Bundshu I did the “Classic Tasting” of four estate wines for $5. Bartholomew was cool because their wines are only available at the vineyard; they also had a small and slightly boring museum. All in all it was a lovely little day trip. Wine country is just as beautiful as I had imagined.

Ho ho ho

Christmas is the king of holidays. Indulgence is celebrated with no concern for price or calories. Grocery shopping is a grand outing that requires supreme organization; lists are divided by protein, produce, dry goods, and dairy and a team of shoppers is assembled. Seafood is ordered in advance at the local fish market and a brave trip is made the day of Christmas Eve to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

All of this planning and groundwork is done knowing that the reward is the best meal of the year. But, if we didn’t enjoy the work (fighting Italians in the Bronx for prosciutto bread and cleaning clove after clove of garlic) then we wouldn’t bother. Last year my family opted to take a break from the big Christmas production and ordered Chinese food. We didn’t just miss the traditional feast but everything leading up to it, especially the time spent together in the kitchen. For all these reasons I am happy that we have reinstated the Christmas feast.

Happy Holidays,

The Feast Beast

Last Christmas morning Breetel and I served up the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon buns and they were so good we had to do it again. I made the dough the night before and left it in the fridge overnight. This year we added my mom’s spiced pecans to half the batch; we just rolled the nuts in with the butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Maple extract is the best smell in the world.

On all holiday mornings it is essential to have cocktails with breakfast. We had Cava with pomegranate blueberry juice.

My father taught us how to make Rabbit Agro Dolce, a sweet and sour rabbit stew. Dad bought whole rabbits and I had the opportunity to practice butchering. The dish is prepared like most stews: meat is browned in a frying pan, the pan is deglazed with red wine, and everything goes into a pot of mirepoix with liquid and spices. The addition of brown sugar and red wine vinegar give this stew its unique flavor.

We couldn’t get a picture of the dish before plates were licked clean.

Braciole is beef sliced thin and stuffed with mortadella, Italian parsley, and pecorino. It’s browned on the stove and then finished in the oven with a tomato sauce. I don’t know if it’s traditional to throw potatoes in the pan but we did.

Arancini are rice balls that are stuffed, breaded and fried. It is necessary to chill risotto before hand. To form the arancini spread the rice flat onto your open palm, put the filling in the center, and close the rice around it creating a ball. For our filling we used pork, peas, and cheese. The balls are then coated in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before deep-frying. Served plain or with tomato sauce they make a tasty snack.

The winning dish was Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Eel Sauce. So easy and so fucking delicious. Wrap scallops in bacon and skewer them then cook in a very hot oven (about 500 degrees) until the bacon is crispy. Finish with eel sauce. Our sushi chef friend, Ben, gave us the eel sauce. If you don’t know Ben look for it in a store or ask your favorite sushi restaurant if you can buy some. I don’t know what eel sauce is but i love it.

Here are some other highlights…

Grandma’s antipasto buffet is a Christmas Eve tradition.

This is what elves eat.

Insalatta di Pesce Stocco made by Dad.

Clams also made by Dad.

Breetel and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Ovenless Series, Finale

Rachael and I watched Mississippi Massala and ate Indian food. I did not have the energy or spices to make real Indian food so I improvised. The curry was not as hot as young Denzel Washington.

Vegetable curry:

chiles

butter

few tbsp curry powder

2 potatoes, diced

cup chickpeas

2 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed

cup plain yogurt

cup crushed tomatoes

salt

Preparation: heat butter in pot. Add chiles and cook until fragrant. Add potatoes and some curry powder and cook several minutes. Add chickpeas, spinach, and remaining curry powder and cook another few minutes. Then add tomatoes and yogurt and cook on medium-low heat until the potatoes are soft.

Paratha:

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

1 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter or neutral oil (I used vegetable)

Preparation: combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add water and mix with hands (or machine) until sticky. Allow the dough to rest 20 minutes at room temperature. Break dough into 4-6 pieces. Roll each piece into a circle and brush with oil. Then “roll up like a cigar, then into a coil not unlike a cinnamon bun.” I was totally confused when I read this so I hope my pictures make it more clear. Put a griddle over medium heat. Then press each piece of dough flat and roll out into a circle. Place in griddle and cook each side for a few minutes, brushing with oil. I found that after the first batch the griddle was oily enough and stopped brushing the bread. Cover bread loosely with foil or towel and serve immediately.

Also, my landlord got us a new oven. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The Ovenless Series, Part III

Rice pudding is a flexible dish. There are several ways to play with flavor. You can use a different kind of rice but will need to adjust the cooking time. Try substituting half of the dairy with another liquid; coconut milk is my favorite but eggnog sounds festive. I suppose you could make this vegan by using soy or rice milk but personally I can’t stand either. Any kind of sweetener will do: maple syrup, honey, molasses, agave, whatever.

Brown rice pudding is good for dessert, better for breakfast.

 

Toasted Coconut Brown Rice Pudding:

(Inspired by Eggnog Brown Rice Pudding)

2 cups water

1 cup brown rice

pinch salt

4 cups 2% milk

1 cup toasted coconut

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4  cup sugar

Preparation: In a pot bring water, rice and pinch of salt to a boil. Stir and reduce to a simmer. Cook thirty to forty minutes until water is absorbed. While the rice is cooking toast the coconut in a dry pan on medium high heat. Stir frequently while the color turns and remove from heat when golden. Add milk, vanilla, coconut and sugar. Cook over medium low heat for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or chilled. Garnish with dust of cinnamon or dark chocolate shavings.