Monday, May 23, 2011

ravioli with creamy butternut squash sauce and crispy sage

So remember when I did a whole big post rounding up all sorts of pasta recipes? Well I hope you liked it, because it turns out I forgot about one of them. So, without further ado, I give you ravioli with butternut squash sauce and crispy sage.

check out the rare daytime photo! love that natural light.

I mainly followed a recipe for a butternut squash sauce, but I took the idea for using fresh sage leaves rather than the dried ones from this recipe here. If I made this again, (which I would definitely like to do when I have some more butternut squash), I don't think I'd be able to resist further following the second recipe by throwing in some bacon. In fact, I am pretty shocked that I didn't do that in the first place. I must not have had any in the fridge– stranger things have happened.

I roasted the butternut squash with cloves of garlic and then pureed it all with a little milk, pasta water and romano cheese. This made for a nice thick pasta sauce that went really well with some Borgatti ravioli. The mellow roasted garlic really compliments the sweetness of the squash, and the saltiness of the cheese rounds everything out.

Topping this with fried sage leaves gave the dish some much needed textural and color contrast. Just the way I like it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

gouda mashed potatoes with bacon and crispy sage

I appologize for the less than stellar photographs, but let me assure you: these pictures depict the best thing to happen to mashed potatoes since they first discovered milk and butter: cheesy bacon and sage mashed potatoes.

This was, as you might already suspect, a decadently rich dish, even without boiling the potatoes in stock as the recipe instructed. (I just used plain old water since I figured there was quite enough going on with these potatoes already.)

We peeled and chopped our potatoes, and then boiled them until cooked through. After draining the potatoes, we put them back in the pot and turned the heat back on. We stirred the potatoes for a few minutes to help dry them out before the mashing began, and then added a couple tablespoons of butter and a couple of cups of grated gouda cheese. From here on out, this was all Nathan, as he lovingly mashed the the potatoes into creamy and cheesy goodness with the electric mixer, adding a splash of warm milk to bind it all together. Meanwhile, I was frying up some crispy bacon bits and sage leaves for the garnish.

I normally find gouda to be a little overpowering with its smokiness, but the mashed potatoes definitely tempered and mellowed the cheese, and then end result was smooth and delicious. The bacon and sage added salt, color and texture to really kick things up a notch.

This was like eating an awesome stuffed baked potato, only it felt super classy instead of like something off the TGIFriday's menu. Frizzled sage leaves tend to have that effect. Plus, Nathan did a really excellent job mashing these up for optimal silk smoothness. The boy makes peerless potatoes. What more could I ask for?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

purple cabbage shallot puree, polenta and steak with brown beer mustard sauce

This dinner was definitely one of the best things I have cooked this year. From left to right we have a nice rare steak with a beer and grainy mustard sauce, creamy polenta with parsley, and a purple cabbage and shallot puree. I won't beat around the bush. It. Was. Awesome.

This meal came about when I saw this recipe. Unlike the gloppy looking purplish goo that I came up with, the photo that accompanied original recipe was so damn pretty that I couldn't believe it wasn't actually a dessert. I when I realized that it was actually the prettiest cabbage that I've ever seen, I knew what I was making with some of my seemingly endless supply of purple food co-op cabbage. (Seriously, that stuff doesn't go bad, and it multiplies like Jesus with the loaves and fishes when you try to chop it up!)

While my dish didn't quite compare visually, I am happy to report that it was super delicious. I'd even go so far as to say that this may be the tastiest cabbage preparation I've ever eaten. The cabbage is cooked slowly with plenty of chopped shallots in some olive oil, so everything turns sweet and mellow as the shallots caramelize. Then you blend everything up with some milk or half and half to make a nice smooth puree.

I am telling you, this was such a pleasant surprise. I never knew that cabbage could be so silky and sweet. I couldn't stop eating it. And, even if it wasn't as pretty as I thought it would be, I definitely enjoyed having something purple on my plate. What can I say, sometimes I am girly like that.

I used this nice Belgian beer to make a sauce for my steak. I swear to you that I got the idea for a beer and mustard pan sauce from some recipe I saw on Serious Eats or perhaps some other food blog, but I can't seem to find the original anywhere. So I guess I will just have to take all the credit. Perhaps I merely dreamed that I read about a delicious steak, seared on high heat and then left to rest while the pan is deglazed with a nice ale and some grainy mustard. Sounds like a pretty sweet dream to me!

The steak was perfectly rare on the inside with a nice crust on the outside, and the beer and mustard sauce thickened up into a wonderfully rich glaze. It was very easy to make up this sauce, and it was a good way to scrape up all those lovely brown bits that are left behind in the pan after you sear the steak. A pan sauce is such a great thing, and I really should try to make them more often.

Paired with some easy, cheesy polenta and a nice green parsley garnish, the steak and cabbage were a great dinner, and one of my 2011 dining highlights to date!

Monday, May 9, 2011

prosciutto fried pears

I don't know if this is something that people do, or just a crazy idea that I had, but I had some prosciutto and I had some juicy ripe pears, and I decided to play match maker. I quartered the bartletts, and then wrapped each piece in very thinly sliced prosciutto. Toss those babies in a hot frying pan, maybe with a little melted butter, and let it sizzle. The sugars in the pear will help caramelize the prosciutto, and the pears warm up and get nice and soft.

This turned out to be pretty tasty, a classic mix of salty and sweet. I particularly liked the crispiness of the prosciutto, which is something you don't get in the classic melon/prosciutto combo. In that regard in the very least, I think this fried pear update is an improvement.

Has anyone heard of anything like this before? Regardless, I think prosciutto fried pears are a pretty good idea, and they honestly couldn't be easier. We're talking three ingredients and ten minutes max. Toss it on a bed of arugula for a fancy salad, or serve with some sort of crunchy cookie and some dulce de leche ice cream. I could definitely see a lot of cool things happening with prosciutto fried pears. If you like the sound of these, you should give them a shot at home and let me know how it goes!

Friday, May 6, 2011

pasta palooza: assorted spaghetti

If you know anything about the way I cook, you know that I make a lot of pasta. Basically, if I don't know what to make for dinner, I will just throw whatever is in the fridge on top of spaghetti and call it a day. In addition to improvised dishes, I'm also always on the lookout for new pasta recipes. As I once said in my facebook status: "there is no such thing as too much pasta. am I right or am I right?"

Anyway, after my dearth of blog entries the past few months, I have quite a backlog of pasta dishes to tell you about. Rather than giving you a week's worth of spaghetti entries, I am going to lump a bunch of them together, linking you to the recipes that inspired me, or giving a basic description of my on the fly dishes.

First up, I have for you this recipe for spaghetti with anchovies and walnuts that ran in The New York Times last year. It appealed to me not only because it was described as a traditional part of the Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner, but also because it was actually part of their "Recipes for Health" feature. God knows we could all stand to eat healthier, and if that comes with in the form of spaghetti, chopped parsley, toasted walnuts and melted anchovies with garlic, sign me up! This was definitely yummy, undeniably easy and unexpectedly different dish. The crunchy nuts were a pleasant and very unusual touch for a pasta dish, and it was great to make since the ingredients were all things I always have on hand.

This dish was a recipe from a really trendy Brooklyn/LES restaurant called Frankie Sputino that I am kind of dying to go to. In the mean time, I've settled for a weak facsimile of their homemade cavatelli with brown butter fried sage and sausage coins.

As you can see, I did not get around to making my own cavatelli, but instead settled on small store bought shells. This made this a really easy dish. I simmered the sausage in a pan of water, and then sliced them into thin rounds which I cooked until golden brown and crispy on both sides. The sauce was really just butter, which I browned in the sausage pan to incorporate all those little brown bits that were left behind. As the pasta cooked, I fried up the sage leaves, which were ultimately tossed with the sausage, shells and brown butter sauce. Excellent, with lots of sagey goodness.

This dish was one of my own creation based, as you might guess, on what I had lying around. In this case that was onions, lemons, and fontina cheese. I slowly caramelized the onions. As the pasta was cooking, I added some of the pasta water to the onions, and squeezed in some lemon juice. Adding liquid to the pan not only created the basis for a pasta sauce, but also had the added benefit of speeding up the cooking time on my onions, which normally take a notoriously long time to caramelize. To finish the sauce, I stirred in some sliced fontina cheese, which melted nicely. With plenty of cracked black pepper, this was pretty tasty. I liked the lemony onions, and the melted fontina added a lot of flavor to the sauce.

All in all I thought that this came out pretty good. The caramelized onions were mild and delicious, and their sweetness was nicely countered by the lemon, pepper and salty cheese. A successful pasta experiment!

And here we have perhaps the best of them all: Pappardelle with Stewed Tomatoes and Pancetta. Nathan and Tenli made this last time she visited. I can take credit for finding the recipe, but not for how impressively delicious it turned out to be.

The pancetta was diced and pan fried with crushed red pepper in butter, and then a can of chopped tomatoes was added. You squeeze out all the tomato juice first though, so this turns into a nice thick sauce. From there, this dish is a total snap: add a little cream, cook a little longer, and then toss with your pappardelle, adding a little pasta water if you need to thin out the sauce.

This was incredibly rich tasting, probably from the fatty pancetta, but you know what that really means: extra delicious! Yeah, this is the kind of stick to your ribs rustic food that I just can't resist.

Here we have another kind of crazy fridge improv: basically just red cabbage + onions + grated cheese. Yeah, it was pretty straightforward, the product of a spare refrigerator.

I sliced up the onions and cabbage nice and thinly, and then cooked them in olive oil over low heat. When I mixed in the romano cheese, this made a pretty solid sauce. Though this wasn't exactly an innovation by any stretch of the imagination, it was way prettier than your average pasta dish. Purple pasta! Yay!

This last dish was probably my least favorite of all. The problem, to be honest, lay not with the pasta, which I dressed in a light lemony sauce that I will try to recreate in more detail for you later. Instead, what bothered me was the Whole Food sausage that I used, which had some appetite-killing bits of bone and cartilage hiding in there. Totally gross. Sausage should NOT be crunchy.

Basically, I used bow tie pasta, sauteed spinach and chopped up sausage, and made the sauce from lemon juice, olive oil and grated romano cheese. I did feel that it was kind of a bland sauce, but I think that I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if it were not for the sausage. Very, very unappealing.

Overall though, I'd have to say that I've had some very successful pasta dishes as of late.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

sunset sticky ribs

Well guess what I have for you today? An actual recipe! Are you excited? Well you should be– ribs make me think of summer and with the weather in New York finally heating up, I am ready to turn on the grill! Of course, since I live in a small 5th floor walk up, I don't actually own a grill, which is why I love these sweet and sticky oven roasted ribs.

This recipe comes from The Sunset Cookbook, which was published last fall. Sunset Magazine is a Western lifestyle magazine that has been published since 1898, and they've always published lots and lots of recipes featuring fresh, local, seasonal ingredients. As an East coast girl, I didn't grow up reading Sunset, but it seems like it would be right up my alley. I mean, they are responsible for the first known published recipe for pesto way back in 1946! Clearly, this is a publication that I should get to know.

Of course, Nathan is from California, and it was his mom, Tenli, who first brought Sunset to my attention when they published their first ever cookbook last year. Tenli bought the book for Nathan, and it's chock full of tempting recipes for dishes that typify California cuisine. Plenty of Mexican and Asian influences, and all the wonderful vegetables and produce that you would expect from this type of cookbook.

In paging through, I am really impressed with all the recipes. They are simple and straightforward, without any fussy ingredients or techniques. These are meals with big, bold flavors that can be prepared without exotic ingredients, specialized equipment or undue stress. Sure, sometimes it's fun to challenge yourself in the kitchen, but these dishes manage to be exciting, delicious, but also utterly approachable.

I am really excited to cook more with Sunset, especially when my CSA starts back up. But seriously, with recipes like Fennel-crusted Trout with Lemon-Ginger Vinaigrette, Gin and Spice Flank Steak, Roasted Kohlrabi and Eggs with Mustard and Honey, Baby Pumpkins with Garlic Custard and Salt-Crusted Beets with Avocado, Lavender and Thyme, who wouldn't want to put this book to work in their kitchen?

So far, the only thing we've tried are these Sweet and Sticky Ribs, but if the other recipes are as good as this, I am sure we'll be getting a lot of use out this book. The ribs are first rubbed with chili powder, salt and cumin seeds. For extra flavor, you can toast the seeds in a frying pan to bring out their fragrance. After roasting the ribs, you top them with a glaze of honey and lime juice. The lime, chili powder, honey and cumin flavors all go really well together, making a nice mix of sweet and spice and acidity. If you like cumin, this is definitely something you will enjoy.

Sticky Ribs
adapted from The Sunset Cookbook, p. 421

Brush a sweet, tangy glaze over ribs coated with a a mix of spices, then roast instead of grill to get crispness and good flavor without the risk of burning. The original recipe called for 8 lbs. of meat, so it can certainly be scaled back up to feed a crowd.

Serves 2 to 3 | Time: 1¼ hours

1 rack pork loin back (baby back) ribs or ½ rack pork spareribs (about 2 lbs. total)
¾ tbsp each chili powder and kosher salt
½ tbsp cumin speeds
¼ cup honey
1½ tbsp fresh lime juice
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425˚. Trim fat from ribs.
2. In small bowl, mix chili powder, salt and cumin seeds to make the spice rub. In another small bowl, mix honey and lime juice for the glaze.
3. Rub spice mixture over both sides of ribs.
4. Line a baking pan with foil. Set a flat rack in it and lightly coat with olive oil. Set ribs, meaty side up, on rack and roast until lightly browned on top, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn slabs over and switch pan positions. Roast until other side is browned, 20 to 30 minutes longer.
5. Brush generously with glaze. Continue to roast, basting occasionally, until glaze is browned and bubbly, 6 to 12 minutes. Turn ribs over and brush generously with more glaze. Roast, basting occasionally, until glaze is browned and meat between ribs is no longer pink in center (cut to test), 6 to 12 minutes longer.
6. Transfer ribs to a board. Let rest 5 minutes. Cut between ribs.

Monday, May 2, 2011

spicy kale tomato sauce/baked tilapia with breadcrumbs

What happens when you defrost some of last summer's tomato sauce and toss it with cute little tennis racket pasta and leftover kale that you had stir fried with red pepper flakes and red wine vinegar? A nice little pasta dish with a spicy kick is what happens. Definitely nothing fancy, but also one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

And what can you serve that with, you ask? Well how about a little tilapia fillet, lightly seasoned and sprinkled with some scallions, breadcrumbs and a drizzle of olive oil? Just bake it for about ten minutes in a 350˚ oven, and you'll get a nice moist, flakey piece of fish. Not terribly exciting, but hey, it's an easy weeknight dinner and I happen to think it's a pretty tasty fish preparation.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

cranberry ice cream (with wine poached pears)

OK, so I know that this photo really highlights those beautiful pears, blood red after being poached in red wine, but I have to admit, I didn't make them. My friend Marc did, and yes, they were delicious. But I brought some cranberry ice cream to go along with them, and if you take a look you can see a little scoop of that too, and that's what I want to talk about.

I actually had a fairly difficult time getting a recipe for cranberry ice cream that looked good. I wanted to use fresh cranberries, I wanted to leave out the eggs (I just can't get up the courage to try a custard-based ice cream again, and I also don't like that it wastes so many egg whites, although I guess I could just bake pavlovas or something), and I wanted to add some orange zest.

I did not find a single recipe that met those requirements, but I've discovered that it's pretty easy to bluff an ice cream recipe. If you've got some milk, cream, sugar and flavorings, you can probably just throw all of it in the ice cream maker and it'll do its thing.

In this instance, I cooked a bag of cranberries with a half a cup of sugar, some water and the zest of a small orange until the berries started to break down. After about ten minutes of cooking on medium high heat, I strained the berries out. I chilled the remaining liquid and mixed it with half a cup of orange juice, two cups of milk and a cup of cream. This went into the ice cream maker to churn for the standard half hour. Right at the end I mixed in the reserved cranberries, which added an extra shot of tart berry flavor, their bright red color studding the pale pink ice cream.

This was not a very sweet ice cream, but I really wanted to highlight the cranberry's natural tartness. I know that this isn't a real recipe, but if you want to keep things sweet I'd suggest adding a more substantial amount of sugar. Otherwise, you'll get a very refreshing ice cream with a nice citrus-y kick. This was definitely a very nice way to use cranberries, so keep it in mind next time they are back in stores.