Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
It's summer time!!!! And that means the best tomatoes, basil and eggplant you'll get the entire year. And those ingredients immediately sends me into Eggplant Parmesana mode.
The traditional eggplant parmesana involves a laborious basic breading system -- flour, egg, bread crumbs, then fry it up -- which with two kids, I frankly don't have the time, space and patience to do. I've found you can get the same delicious taste without the hassle and calories of the whole breading step by just frying up the eggplant dusted in a little bit of seasoned flour. That's it. Then top with marinara sauce (homemade or store bought), low-fat cheese and fresh basil. It's easy to make, relatively healthy, and best part is you can get your kids to eat eggplant!
Easy Eggplant Parmesana
1 medium eggplant
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
about 2 cups of marinara sauce
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
about 3/4 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the top and end off of the eggplant. Slice it into 1/2 inch thick rounds. You should end up with around 12 "disks." Set aside.
Combine the flour, salt and pepper (and red pepper flakes if using) in a shallow dish. Set aside.
Take the largest fry pan you have (or two medium-sized ones) and place a good amount of olive oil in the bottom. You want enough to cover in a layer the whole bottom of the pan. Heat on high heat until very hot. Take each eggplant round and coat it in the flour mixture, dust off any excess. Once the oil if very hot, carefully slice the eggplant into the oil and cook until golden browned, about 2-3 minutes per side. You will probably have to do this in batches, so make sure you discard any oil from the prior batch as the flour will brown it and give it a bitter taste. Always fry in new oil.
While the eggplant is frying, place about 1 cup of the marinara sauce on the bottom of a lasagna dish. Smooth it out with a spatula, creating an even layer. As the eggplant gets fried, layer them in the lasagna dish. It's ok if they overlap. It should look like this:
Top the fried eggplant with the rest of the marinara. You don't need to cover every inch of the eggplant. The point is you have sauce on the bottom and sauce on the top to help keep the eggplant moist while it cooks in the oven. Then top with the chopped basil, parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese.
Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and melted completely.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Miss Ecaterina (but we call her Cati) who's 3 years old:
...and her little brother Trajan (we call him T-bone) who's 21 months old:
They like mommy's food:
Summer Sunday Dinner: Roasted Chicken with Herbes de Provence and Mesclun with Cherries, Roasted Onions and Pine Nuts
Friday, July 9, 2010
I often make roasted chicken not just because it's easy, but because it's so comforting. It's probably one of my All Time Favorite things to make and eat. When done right, there is nothing better. My usual roasted chicken involves a special French herb blend called herbs de provence - a collection of dried rosemary, thyme, lavender, fennel, and various other herbs found in abundance throughout southern France. I also add fresh lemon, herbs and garlic inside the chicken so it can smell heavenly as well as be infused with the flavors.
Since moving to Seattle we've also been privy to some seriously good cherries. Although I love them just by themselves in a pretty glass bowl on a warm summer afternoon, I'm also loving them as sweet additions to salads. They're easy to pit so don't be discouraged. Pairing them with tender mesclun greens, a simple white balsamic vinaigrette and toasted pine nuts makes for a simple, colorful and seasonal salad that will leave your guests feeling so special.
This is a perfect meal for that Sunday get-together. And don't forget the wine!
Roasted Chicken with Herbs de Provence
1 4-5 pound chicken, insides removed and discarded
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 Tbsp herbs de provence*
extra virgin olive oil
1 very large (or 2 smaller) white onions
1 lemon, cut into quarters
1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
4-6 fresh herbs sprigs (thyme, rosemary, sage...whatever you have on hand)
Special Equipment: roasting pan
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Take chicken and wash thoroughly, inside and out. Using paper towels, pat very dry especially in areas like under the wings and joints. Set aside.
Peel the onion and cut into very large chunks, about 1.5 inches thick. Toss in some olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the onion on a single layer in the roasting pan.
Brush the chicken with some olive oil. A basting brush works best for this. Season the chicken liberally with the salt and pepper, going heavier on the seasoning with the thicker on the breast side. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper as well. Next, lightly sprinkle the herbs de provence on the chicken, seasoning all sides (no need to season inside the cavity this time). Using your fingers, lightly press the herbs into the chicken. Don't worry if some fall off and onto the roasting pan; they will season the onions too. Place the chicken breast-side up on top of the bed of onions. Stuff the cavity with the lemon, garlic and fresh herbs, using a piece of lemon as a "door" to shut the cavity hole and enabling the garlic and herbs to steam inside. Place the chicken uncovered in oven.
Roast at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. This will enable the chicken to achieve a nice golden brown color right away and seal in the juices. Without opening the oven door, reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting another 45 min - hour and half or until chicken is golden brown and when you pierce it the juices run clear.**
About halfway through the cooking process you'll want to move the onion pieces around so they don't burn on one side. No need to remove the entire chicken - just reposition the onion pieces a little and turn them over if you see them starting to burn.
Let chicken stand 5 minutes before cutting so juices can redistribute. Remove the onions and serve with the chicken or add to the salad.
Mesclun with Cherries, Roasted Onions and Pine Nuts
1 package mesclun
1 cup cherries, stems removed and pitted
1 portion roasted onions (from roasted chicken recipe)
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp berry jam
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
goat cheese (optional)
Place the mesclun greens in a large bowl. Add cherries and onions (let the onions cool the 5 minutes while the chicken is resting before adding them to the greens).
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and jam. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Whisk vigorously until everything is combined and vinaigrette is emulsified (thickened). Drizzle on the salad and gently toss. Top with pine nuts and dollops of goat cheese if using. Serve immediately.
* You can finde herbs de provence at most grocery stores now. If you can't, then Williams-Sonoma carries a great blend. You can order it online here. If you still have trouble, you can make your own blend. Try equal parts of (all dried):
- fennel seeds
It is of note that the original "herbes de provence" included only rosemary, thyme and savory and American manufacturers added the lavender, fennel and basil. Either way you want to do it, the combinations are wonderful and yield themselves nicely with chicken.**When white meat is raw, the juices are red. When it's fully cooked, the juices are clear. It won't be clear like water, but you will see it's clear and not tinged with red or pink color. Cut into the thigh and main body area to check. You don't want to pierce the breast because then you'll compromise keeping it juicey. Conversely, you can insert a meat thermometer as well to check the doneness.
Yes the herbs de provence must be dried. When you're roasting and exposing the herbs to direct open heat, you need them to be dried or else they will burn. Fresh herbs have too much water in them and thus will crisp up and blacken within 30 minutes, leaving a bitter taste. It's ok to put fresh herbs inside the cavity because they are insulated by the body of the chicken.
Cooking time will depend on the size of your chicken. Standard sizes are 4-5 pounds found at the markets, but there is a movement now to use actually smaller 2 pound chickens. This will obviously feed less people so you might have to do 2 chickens if you use the 2 pounders.
I like using a fresh goat cheese for the salad. It's light, creamy, and offers a tangy bite that pairs perfectly with the sweet cherries and bright herbs and lemon of the chicken. My favorite goat is Montrachet.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The pine nut.
Yes it actually comes from pine trees. The stone pine, to be exact. The pine nuts you'll find at your grocery store and the kernals in the harder and larger shells that can be found right off of the pine cone! Yes, you can theoretically go into a forest, find a sone pine tree, and harvest and eat the nuts. In fact, our ancestors have been doing that for thousands of years. 6000 years to be exact.
Pine nuts have a distinct, sweet and woodsy taste. They have good bite to them, making them substantial despite their small size. Because of that effect they are popular in salads and desserts. A classic European pairing is almond or marzipan cookie topped with pine nuts. And of course, we have the classic pesto which is comprised of toasted pine nuts, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil. They are a classic ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine, Middle Eastern and even Asian.
Harvesting the tiny nut is not as complicated as one would think. Pine cones are taken and placed in large burlap bags and left out in the sun for about 20 days to dry out. Then you beat the shit out of the bag until the cone is pulverized and the seeds remain. Then you sift through, removing the seeds quite easily. Conversely, you can just hike around a forest and pick them up off the ground.
Pine nuts are edible raw and taste fine unlike their other nut cousins the almond, peanut, and walnut that benefit greatly from a little roasting before consuming. However, they develop a nice crunchy texture from a little pan-roasting (picture above). Just a couple of minutes - they burn quite easily as they're full of oil.
Classic combinations for pine nuts include:
- Moroccan spices, cous-cous, currants or raisins
- basil, parmesan, garlic, olive oil
- almond or marizpan based cookie dough
- ricotta cheese, honey
- spinach, feta cheese, lemon
- apricot, honey
- goat cheese
- persimmon, ginger, cinnamon
- basil, parsley, cilantro, mint
- semi-sweet chocolate, sea salt
You can toss them in rice, cous-cous, pasta, or salads. Top them on cookies or desserts. Grind them with an herb like mint or cilantro and coat meat with them (pork and lamb work exceptionally well) for an amazing crust.
Personally, I love them most in salads and pastas. I often toss a small handful on top especially when I'm working with a bitter green like escarole or kale. The sweetness of the pine nut balances out the bitterness of those greens so nicely.Recently I whipped up a quick batch of spaghetti with black kale, cherry tomatoes, sweet onion and of course, pine nuts:
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
So I picked up my Molto Italiano cookbook and found exactly what I was looking for: a recipe for day-old pasta. Mario Batali makes even dry, day-old pasta into something special with this super easy and fun fried pasta pancake recipe. His calls for tagliatelle pasta (a bit thicker than spaghetti), but I used the thinner pasta and it worked out just fine. Probably the best part is the sprinkling of granulated sugar. Brought me back to my childhood when my grandma would make a similar treat with pasta and feta cheese with a sprinkling of sugar. Simple enough to make after a night of drinking, quick enough to make for the kids, this is a great recipe to have in your kitchen for that leftover spaghetti!
2 servings leftover spaghetti (tossed in sauce or plain)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Place the spaghetti in a large bowl, add the eggs, bread crumbs, and parmigiano, and mix in by hand or with a wooden spoon. Take small handfuls of the pasta mixture and form it into lightly compressed nests about 4 inches in diameter (about the size of a small fry pan). Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Carefully place the nests in the hot oil and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown and the edges are crispy. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the sugar if desired and serve immediately.
You can use any kind of cooked pasta for this recipe, but a longer noodle like spaghetti, tagliatelle, even cappelini will work best to create the "nests" to hold the pancake form. Smaller pasta shapes like rotini or manicotti will not hold together and break in the oil.
I made two larger nests out of this recipe; one sweet and one savory. For the sweet one I simply topped with granulated sugar as Batali recommended, and for the savory I added some fresh thyme leaves and dusted with more grated parmesan cheese.
See the finished product:
Friday, July 2, 2010
I love salmon. It's funny because I had never had it until I met Andrew and had it on our first date. Salmon and oysters. Both first times. I digress...
Since moving up to Seattle I've been privy to some seriously FOB salmon (fresh off the boat). It's a great fish, ready-available, difficult to screw up, and can take on a lot of different flavor profiles. I've done it Asian-style with a fabulous miso glaze (one of my favorite ways), and with a garlic-panko crust (also delicious), but honestly my favorite way is to prepare it with a simple rub.
A pantry staple in my house is Potlatch seasoning.