Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rice & Beans [Matt]

Nothing is better after a long day than something simple, delicious and healthy. I've scoured the web for such dishes - it either boils down to the microwave or the stove. Microwaves create awful habits, so I've focused on the quickest possible way to get something good off the stove.

Enter: two stupid simple recipes mashed into one nomtastic blend of awesome.

Mixed / brown rice
- use 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (instead of water)
- add 1 cup of rice
- bring to a boil, stir once, let it simma for 15 minutes covered
- once done, squeeze in 1 lemon and stir

Edamame (I use the shelled + frozen jams)
- bring water to a boil
- add in 3/4 cup edamame
- boil for 3 - 4 minutes
- shock with cold water in strainer

Pancetta (probably do first so then you can snack on them)
- plop the cured meat slices onto pan
- crisp them

Plop the rice down first onto the plate. Add the edamame. Top with the pancetta and parmesan.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cactus Diva's Southwestern Chili Bowl [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: super easy
Time: 20 minutes prep (tops), 45 minutes simmer time with an occasional stir
Serves: 6 to 8

Mmmm. Chili. Good for a crowd, or as a freezer option for a future cold winter's night, or as comfort food when the day's been rough. It's a dump-and-go type of cuisine and gets more flavorful after a couple days in the fridge.

1/2 lb ground beef (optional)
4 cans beans, approx. 15.5 oz size (I used one Cuban style black beans with its liquid, one regular black beans [drained], one chili beans with its liquid and one white beans [drained])
8 or more cloves garlic, minced
3 yellow onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 or 5 Roma tomatoes, chopped, or 1 can (28 oz) chopped tomatoes, drained
1 bottle of beer
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup chicken stock, preferrably homemade
Bay leaf...1 or 2
1/2 can (7 oz size) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (more if you like a blasting heat)
6 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream, minced red onion, minced jalapeno pepper, red pepper flakes, grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Brown the ground beef in a skillet. In a stockpot, saute onions and garlic in olive oil. Add bay leaf, tomatoes. Add beer. Add ground beef and beans, chicken stock, chipotle peppers, bay leaf, chili powder, cayenne. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or so. Check seasonings before serving, fish out the bay leaf, and add heat (cayenne powder, red pepper flakes) if necessary. Serve hot, with desired toppings.

Suggested soundtrack: "Girl on Fire" Alicia Keys Girl On Fire by Alicia Keys on Grooveshark

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bucatini all'Amatriciana [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: the red sauce takes 30 minutes, the Amatriciana part takes 20 minutes
Serves: 8 to 10

Like Tom and June--and possibly all the guests from Lauren and Zack's tiny Italian wedding--Michael and I are already missing Asciano and all the great meals we had in Tuscany. Bucatini all'Amatriciana fills the void. It's based on the recipe in Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook, can easily be doubled to serve a big crowd, and freezes well.

Make the red sauce first.

Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Spanish onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup red wine
6 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (be sure to use fresh, as it makes a big difference)
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
Four 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
Salt to taste

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 5 more minutes. Pour the red wine over the onions and reduce  a bit. Add the thyme and carrot and cook until carrot is soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (drain some of their juice out), breaking them up into small chunks, and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
18 ounces thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta or good bacon (I used uncured bacon, cut into small pieces)
2 red onions, cut lengthwise in half and then into 1/4-inch thick half-moons
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Tomato sauce (see above recipe)
1 to 1/2 pounds bucatini
Freshly grated pecorino romano or parmigiano-reggiano

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the bucatini.

Meanwhile, saute the bacon in a large saute pan (in batches) until done but not cripsy. Remove bacon from pan, retaining drippings. Pour off some of the drippings and cook the onions and garlic in the saute pan. Sprinkle with hot red pepper flakes. Stir onion mixture and reserved bacon into tomato sauce.

Cook bucatini (or fettucine in my case, since we were out of bucatini) to al dente. Drain. Mix a little of the sauce into the noodles, Stir. Plate. Add mounds of Amatriciana sauce to top the noodles, sprinkle the grated cheese over and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Luciano Pavarotti's "Torna a Sorrento"
Come Back to Sorrento by Luciano Pavarotti on Grooveshark

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Soon after returning from a wonderful wedding trip, June and I were discussing the great food we enjoyed in Italia. We decided to keep the Tuscany theme going. When you cut the tomatoe it seems to explode into a pomodoro sauce. This is a light but highly flavorful meal. Add a salad or a chunk of bread or both. A glass of vino with this meal is highly recommended. This recipe is for 2 dinners.


~ 4 cloves Garlic
~ 1/3 cup EVOO
~ 8 leaves fresh Basil
~ 1/2 teaspoon fresh Rosemary
~  8 leaves fresh Italian Parsley
~ 2 tablespoons fresh Chives

Finely chop all the herbs and Garlic. In a cup mix into the oil and set aside


~ 1 Fennel bulb
~ 1 red or orange Pepper
~ 1 yellow Squash
~ 2 Tomatoes
~ 1 red Onion
~ 1 Eggplant
~ Salt and Pepper
~ chunk Parmesian Cheese cut into bit size pieces
~ 3 fresh Basil leaves
~ 3 fresh Italian Parsley leaves

Slice all the vegtables lenghtwise 1/3 - 1/2 of an inch thick except for the fennel and the tomatoe.
Slice the top of the tomatoe and cut the fennel bulb leaving a stalk for each cut. Fire-up the grill.
Liberally coat all the veggies on both sides. Salt and pepper to your liking. Grill the veggies on a medium fire until soft but not mushy. Do not turn the tomato. Plate and top with the chunks of cheese, basil and parsley.

Boun Appetito


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Autumn Pasta with Butternut Squash and Bacon [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 minutes prep, 10 minutes cooking time
Serves: 2 to 3

When it's Tuesday night, you're just walking in the door, and feel the need for both veggies and comfort food, this might just be your go-to dish. It comes from a tattered recipe by Betty Rosbottom from years back, and can morph into an impromptu creation, depending on the vegetables in your fridge. With butternut squash, fresh baby spinach, caramelized onion and, yes, a bit of that bad-boy, bacon, it's a wonderful cool weather dish.

6 ounces bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup chicken stock (go with homemade!), reduced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 tablespoon dried rosemary
1/2 pound uncooked penne pasta
Sea salt
Handful baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes

Saute the bacon, remove, and drain all but 2 tablespoons bacon drippings. Add butter to skillet, melt, add onions, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add butternut squash, cook a few more minutes. Add white wine and chicken stock, rosemary. Reduce slightly, remove squash and onions when squash is slightly tender but not mushy. Reduce sauce a little more, add lemon juice.

Boil a pot of water, cook penne to al dente. Drain pasta, salt the penne slightly, stir in the spinach leaves, then add the sauce and reserved bacon and squash. Stir in parmesan cheese. Garnish with parmesan shavings and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Willie Nelson's "Moonlight in Vermont"
Moonlight in Vermont by Willie Nelson on Grooveshark

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mike's Smokey Bloody Mary [Mike]

MIKE’S SMOKEY BLOODY MARY All good things must come to an end… right? Not for the classic Bloody Mary. It’s a cocktail that’s been around since 1921. Also known as “hair of the dog,” it’s an alcoholic beverage consumed as a hangover cure. After all these years the basic recipe hasn’t changed much. The main ingredients: vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce, salt & pepper. I use Smirnoff Vodka because in New York Times taste tests, it always comes up number one. There are lots of ways to make a Bloody Mary your own; I just discovered that by using a dash of liquid smoke, it makes it special.
MIKE’S BLOODY MARY RECIPE: • One or two shots of vodka • Tomato juice • Worcestershire • Ground pepper • Celery salt • Dijon mustard • Lemon juice • Dash of Liquid Smoke Garnish with celery stalk and wedge of lemon Doctored Bloody Mary: Clamato juice for tomato juice Add horseradish Celery stalks Sliced jalapenos Lime wedge Fresh lemon or lime juice Crisp Bacon slices

Baked Eggplant Parmesan [Zack]

Looking for a veg alternative for chicken parmesean?  This recipe uses baked eggplant - instead of first breading and then frying the pieces.  It's healthier and has a fresher flavor.

I came up with this variation on eggplant parmesean because I made a large batch of breadcrumbs and didn't know what to do with them.  As with all of my experiments, Lauren wants to make sure I use them before I forget about them.  Can't blame her, huh?

If you guys are rocking a veg night a few times a week like we do, give this one a shot.  You can pre-make this and throw it in the oven on a weeknight.


The first step is to wash and then slice the eggplant.  I chose to make almost 1" slices so they'd create a nice bite.

Once you slice them up, salt them fairly generously and then let them sit in a colander for about 30 minutes.  The salt will pull out the water by osmosis and some of the bitterness as well.

While the salt is being mysterious with your eggplant, start a fresh pomodora sauce.  Slice your shallots, mince your garlic, and add it to a heavy-bottomed pot with some olive oil over medium heat.  You'll want to sweat them for about 5 minutes.  Add in your thyme sprigs, basil leaves, and cherry tomatoes.

Cook for another minute or 2, then add in the puree.

Cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add a pinch of salt after it's finished cooking to taste.  The sauce can hang out until you are ready to use it.

Pre-heat your oven to 400F / 200C.  Your eggplant should be about finished sweating by now.  Brush the water off of the eggplant, give them a quick squeeze to make sure a good amount of the water is gone, and place on a baking dish with a generous drizzle of olive oil.  Some cracked pepper never hurts.

You should roast them for about 30 minutes until they are nicely browned.

While this is goin, loosely chop your buffalo mozzarella.  Make sure to drain the motz as much as possible.  Mix it together with ricotta.  If you let this sit for a while, the water will naturally run out and you can drain it further.

Go grab your baking dish and spread some red sauce over the bottom.  Take the roasted eggplant out and place over top the thin layer of sauce.  Then add the cheese on top of that.

The final step is to top this with breadcrumbs.  I made mine from scratch, but feel free to use the stuff from the grocery store, combined with a bit of olive oil to give it some oomph.

When you're ready to serve, bake at 400F / 200C until the breadcrumbs are nicely browned and it's warmed through.

(makes about 6 dinner-sized servings)
56 oz tomato puree
12 cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
2 shallots
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small handful basil

1/2 cup mascarpone
2 motz buffo balls

herbed breadcrumbs to top it all off

Song to dubstep to:  Alex Clare - Too Close
Too Close by Alex Clare on Grooveshark

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Quick and Light: Penne with Asparagus and Fresh Basil [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

Lots of good veggies and fresh flavors make this a go-to recipe for weeknights when you're tired, starving, yet don't want take-out. Frankly, it beats most restaurant pasta dishes if you use homemade chicken stock, but will work fine with canned stock. A green salad and a hunk of crusty bread round out the meal nicely.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
1/2 pound asparagus, stalks trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch lengths
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine

Several thin slices prosciutto, crisped in a frying pan for a few minutes

8 ounces penne pasta

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil and parsley for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, saute briefly. Add wine, reduce slightly, add stock, asparagus and tomatoes. Cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, 4 minutes or so. Add Parmesan cheese, stir. Add the fresh herbs. Swirl in the tablespoon of butter, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

While sauce is cooking, cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain. Return to pot and pour sauce over, stirring. Plate the pasta and garnish with basil, parsley and the crumbled crisped prosciutto.
(I'm sure you see the possibilities with tons of other vegetables--mushrooms, zucchini, snow peas, and/or a quick stir-in of spinach at the last...)

Suggested soundtrack: Phillip Phillip's "Home" (who named him, by the way?) Home by Phillip Phillips on Grooveshark

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cinematic Risotto with Shrimp [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: medium (risotto requires that you stir fairly frequently, so you have to pay attention)
Time: 30 minutes to prep and cook
Serves: 4

Back in 1996, shortly after we had moved to Columbus, this town went nuts over a movie at one of our arts theaters, the Drexel Grandview. The film was Big Night, written by and starring Stanley Tucci. Stanley is one of our South Salem, NY buddies--we'd see him frequently at the kids' soccer games, and occasionally, he'd mention this screenplay he was writing. Big Night turned out to be not only a big hit, but the true start of an amazing film career for him.

Anyway, the local newspaper here in Columbus contacted Stanley's mom, Joan, and she offered up their family risotto recipe like the one in the movie. It's fabulous, and you can short-cut it with no loss of flavor by using chicken stock instead of the shellfish stock the Tuccis make. Either way works.

Shortly after the movie, Joan and Stanley produced a cookbook, Cucina & Famiglia, with another acquaintance friend of mine, Mimi Taft. The shrimp risotto recipe is included in it, one of many good ones from a family well-versed in solid Italian cooking.

1 lb. medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined, shells reserved
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
Few sprigs fresh parsley
5 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup arborio rice
1 small ripe tomato, diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Shellfish stock: Place shrimp shells in a large saucepan. Add whole chopped onion, carrot, celery, parsley and salt to taste. Add water. Simmer gently 25 minutes. Strain and discard shells and vegetables. Set broth aside and keep warm.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add shrimp and freshly ground pepper to taste. Saute just until shrimp are pink. Set aside.

In a large pot or skillet, place 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Over medium heat, saute 1/4 cup chopped onion and the minced garlic. Do not brown. Add rice and stir to coat evenly. Add 1 cup shellfish stock (or chicken broth, if you are substituting), and cook, stirring frequently until rice has absorbed broth. Add wine, more broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring. Add tomato. Stir until rice is creamy and tender but still al dente, about 18 minutes.

Add a little more broth if necessary, add the parmesan, check to see if additional salt is needed, and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 1 tablespoon butter at the very end for extra creaminess. Serve immediately.

Suggested soundtrack: Luciano Pavarotti's "Libiamo" from Verdi's "La Traviata"
Libiamo, Libiamo Ne Lieti Calici by Luciano Pavarotti on Grooveshark

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Homemade Flavored Bread Crumb Topping [Zack]

I try to find the good side of all situations in life.  When Lauren and I were visiting Italy, we had to book a hotel room by the airport so we could work remotely for a day (eww).  Since we were at the hotel all day, we ended up eating in the restaurant there.  The food was a little disappointing, but I still came away with a fun concept to try at home!

I had pasta with pears and gorgonzola.  It was topped with crunchy, slightly cheesey bread crumbs.  My mind started racing about how I could sprinkle these on a multitude of dishes to add a crispy and savory element.

These are easy to make and you can store them in the fridge and re-crisp them if needed.  It's a good way to use up that hard bread that has been sitting on your counter while you weren't in the mood for a sandwich.  I started with leftover wheat bread, but you can also do this with store-bought breadcrumbs.


The first step is to make sure that your bread is very dry and crunchy.  We are going to blend them in the food processor, and if the bread is still moist, it won't be fully chopped up.

I took day-old wheat bread and sliced it into strips for maximum surface area.  It will dry out more quickly in the oven.

Put your oven on a low temperature like 300F / 150C and place the bread on a tray.  It should take about 10 minutes to become crunchy, but make sure to watch it!  It will burn very quickly.

While your bread is in the oven, peel and loosely chop the shallots and garlic.  Toss them into your food processor and strip the thyme leaves in there.  Pulse until they are all diced.

Add the toasted bread in the food processor, right on top.

And process until it looks like breadcrumbs.

The next step is to toast these in a frying pan until they are extra crispy.  Add the crumbs into a medium-low frying pan and add 1/3 cup of olive oil.  Toss and cook for about 5 more minutes.

While this is cooking, loosely dice your cheese and put it in the food processor and blend until it's evenly grated.

Once the breadcrumbs are crunchy, remove them to a bowl.  Wait until they have cooled a bit and fold in the grated cheese.

You can use these to top many different things.  I'll post a few recipes using them soon:
  • steamed artichokes with herbed breadcrumbs and salami
  • baked eggplant parmesean
  • any nice pasta dish
  • Italian mac and cheese
  • in halved and then hollowed-out squash, baked
  • to top a roasted lamb rack (halfway through roasting, slather lamb in mustard, then stick the bread crumbs to it and continue roasting)
(makes about 3 cups)
1/3 cup grated parmesean cheese
6 slices wheat bread
1 shallot
2 cloves garlic
7 sprigs thyme
1/3 cup olive oil

Jam to this:  Wax Tailor - Gaurenteed
Guaranteed (feat. A.S.M) by Wax Tailor on Grooveshark

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Bellini (Adapted from Harry's Bar) [Rhonda]

It should be on everyone's bucket list: traveling to Venice, stopping in for a Bellini at the famous Harry's Bar, an iconic fixture slightly west of the Piazza San Marco.

This is the easy version, until that magical trip happens for you.

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 5 minutes
Serves: 1

2 ounces chilled peach puree, made from 1 peach
3 ounces chilled prosecco
Pinch of sugar, if desired

To make the peach puree, blend chunks of unpeeled peaches in a food processor, strain through a fine sieve. Add a pinch of sugar if desired.

Put the peach puree in the bottom of a champagne flute, pour in the prosecco and serve immediately without stirring. (I stirred.)

Suggested soundtrack: "Un bel di vedromo" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" Puccini / Madama Butterfly: "Un bel di" by Various Artists on Grooveshark

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sauteed Medallions of Pork with Prunes [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 minutes to prep, 12 minutes to saute pork and prepare sauce
Serves: 4

My copy of this recipe, clipped from the New York Times back in the early '80s when I was just learning to cook, is yellowed, dog-eared from time and use, with the word "great!" written in a careful script across the top.

It is that, great. Pierre Franey wrote of classic French recipes and technique for the Times, and while you may say the saute requires a deft hand, the whole thing is easy and delicious. He suggests serving it with parsleyed mashed potatoes--a nice option to showcase the sauce.

8 thin boneless pork tenderloin medallions, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup port wine (red wine works just fine)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh chicken broth or canned
24 pitted prunes
2 tablespoons butter (or 1 tablespoon creme fraiche)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Place pork slices in a flat dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cumin.

Heat the oil in large skillet. When oil is hot, add meat, sprinkle the rosemary over it and cook over medium heat for three to five minutes, until browned. Turn slices over and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer meat to warm platter.

Remove fat from skillet, add onions and garlic and stir until wilted. Add port wine, vinegar, tomato paste and chicken broth. Stir to dissolve brown particles that cling to the bottom. Add prunes and cook until reduced by half.

Add any accumulated juices from the pork. Add butter (or creme fraiche), blend. Remove from heat, add pork cutlets into sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Suggested soundtrack: Ed Sheeran's "Angels to Fly," lovely tune, sad lyricsAngels To Fly by Ed Sheeran on Grooveshark

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jamaican Jerk Burgers with Orange-Chipotle Mayonnaise [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 10 minutes prep, plus grilling time
Serves: 6

This burger is such a nice switch from the usual cheeseburger and takes about the same amount of time in the kitchen, which is to say, not much, particularly if you stir up the mayo ahead of time. (By the way, orange-chipotle mayo has major potential for any number of things--steamed shrimp, crispy fried fish--it's ridiculously tasty.)

Although I've made a few additions and changes over time, the basis of this recipe is from Lynne Rosetto Kasper's newsletter, The Splendid Table, from American Public Media. I highly recommend you subscribe to it if you don't already, as Kasper has an amazing repertoire of interesting menu ideas. I met her at a cooking demonstration at the North Market in Columbus several years ago, and she is as nice as she is smart.


Orange-Chipotle Mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chiles (I use much more--I love the intensity of this flavor!)

Jerk Sauce:
1 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (I use a sprinkle of dried when I don't have fresh)
1 small habanero chile or 2 medium jalapeno chiles, seeded, chopped
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soy sauce

2 pounds ground beef

6 sesame seed hamburger buns
Spinach leaves or romaine lettuce
Tomato slices

For orange-chipotle mayo: Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Can make a day ahead, refrigerate.

For jerk sauce: Finely chop first 4 ingredients in food processor. Add sugar, oil and soy sauce, process until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat grill (I'm still old-school and use charcoal--it adds such a nice flavor). Set aside 3/4 cup jerk sauce. (The rest of the jerk sauce can be served with the burgers or refrigerated to use on chicken, pork, etc.)

Shape ground beef into six patties, place in a glass baking dish, pour 1/2 cup of jerk sauce over patties and turn to coat. Let stand 20 minutes.

Grill patties, brushing with remaining jerk sauce from baking dish. Assemble hamburgers, using the lettuce, tomato, patties and orange-chipotle mayo.  Serve immediately.

Suggested soundtrack: It kept playing in my head as I devoured my burger--Usher's "OMG"
Omg Usher by Omg on Grooveshark

Simple Summer Sweet Corn [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: super easy
Time: 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how quick you are with a knife
Serves: 2 to 4

A recent trip to the New Albany Farmers Market yielded an abundance of beautiful, just-picked white sweet corn. In lieu of firing up the grill and roasting it with chile lime butter, or steaming it on the cob, I quickly removed it from the cob, added a little butter and salt, briefly warmed it and stirred in a spoonful of creme fraiche at the end. It was heavenly, and all the rich, simple corn taste came bursting through.

4 ears white sweet corn (Silver Queen, perhaps)
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
Dollop of creme fraiche or 2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sprinkle of sea salt

Serve warm.

Suggested soundtrack: Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat's "Lucky"
Lucky by Jason Mraz And Colbie Caillat on Grooveshark

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Clams with Chiles and Lemongrass [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy
Time: 15 minutes prep (easy), 3 minutes to steam the clams
Serves: 2 as an appetizer, 1 as an entree

Clipped from a magazine some time ago--Elle Decor? Martha Stewart Living?--this is such a clean, yet bracing and spicy way to serve littleneck clams. The hardest part is finding tender, fresh-caught clams--Whole Foods comes through regularly, as well as reputable fish markets. Paired with a chilled pinot grigio, some bread and a salad, it makes a late summer dinner on the terrace delightful.

Coarse salt
1 dozen small clams (littlenecks are fabulous), rinsed well
1 stalk lemongrass, hard outer leaves removed and reserved, bottom four inches of stalks thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 or 2 small fresh green chiles (jalapeno, serrano or Thai chiles), thinly sliced crosswise
1 or 2 small fresh red chiles (Holland chiles or cherry peppers)
Juice of 1 lime, plus a few lime wedges
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
Several sprigs fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Dissolve 2 tablespoons salt in a large bowl of cold water. Add clams. Let soak at room temperature 10 minutes. Drain. Scrub clams under cold running water. Transfer to a large bowl of fresh cold water. Repeat, scrubbing clams and rinsing. Drain.

Put reserved lemongrass leaves in a large pot with 1/2 inch of water. Bring to a boil. Add clams. Steam, covered, until clams open, three minutes or so. Drain and reserve clams in separate dish. Discard any unopened clams and the leaves.

To the pot add oil, sliced lemongrass, shallots, garlic and chiles. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until lemongrass and shallots turn golden, about a minute. Remove from heat. Add clams back to pot, gently stir to coat.

Stir together lime juice and fish sauce in small bowl, expanding the amounts if you need to, and pour over clams. Transfer clams to a large serving bowl, sprinkle with cilantro. Garnish with lime wedges.

Suggested soundtrack: Don Omar Tego Calderon "Bandolero"
Bandolero (c. Tego Calderon) by Don Omar on Grooveshark

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fig, Ricotta, and Honey Crostini [Zack]

When I don't want to have a heavy dinner, I skip out on meat.  I especially try to avoid red meat if I get home from work late and need to eat a later diner.  Nobody likes to wake up in the morning and feel heavy.

This recipe is very simple and has a few interesting flavors that meld together to produce a crunchy addition to any meal.  The sweet figs and honey balance out with the rich ricotta and savory, garlicy bread.

Try this one with a fresh summer salad!


(honey not pictured)

Slice your bread into 1/4 inch (or 1 cm) slices.  Heat your oven to 350F / 175C.

Lay the slices on a baking tray and lightly brush them with olive oil.

Pop the tray into the oven and bake for about 7 to 10 minutes, until it's brown and crispy.  Make sure to watch it - bread burns quickly!

While the bread is in the oven, mix your ricotta in a bowl with 3 of the sprigs of thyme leaves.  The leaves are easier to strip off of the stems if you run your fingers from the top and work down.  Add a pinch of salt and as much cracked black pepper as you like.

Slice your dried figs thinly.

When the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool until you can handle it, and then brush it with a peeled garlic clove.  The crunchy bread will grate the garlic and it will nicely fragrance the bread.

Spread the ricotta mixture over the bread, top with the slices of fig, and then drizzle honey on top.  Add the leaves from the last thyme sprig for some color.

Serve with something fresh - I chose a summer salad of radish, cilantro, avocado, and a lemon honey dressing.

(makes about 8 large crostini, or 16 baguette-slice sized)

1 loaf of hearty wheat bread
1 250g container of ricotta cheese (~1 cup)
7 dried figs, sliced longways
1 garlic clove
1 to 2T of olive oil
2 T of honey for drizzling on top
4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Gotye - Somebody that I used to know
Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye on Grooveshark

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Asian Confit Pork Belly [Zack]

Can you recall a time when you were eating ribs and they were so tender that the meat fell straight off the bone?  Have you ever had a piece of cooked bacon where the fat is juicy and slightly crisped?  How about a dish where 5-spice was the star of the show?

If you combine all of those heart-racing memories, that's the definition of a good confit pork belly.  You already know the ratio of meat to fat in pork belly if you have ever seen a piece of uncooked bacon (bacon is made from the belly of the pork).  When the belly is cooked slowly, the meat portion becomes tender like pulled pork.  The fat portions melt in your mouth, and the asian 5-spice flavors sing throughout the whole experience.

It is a perfect appetizer, or the star of a rice bowl with vegetables. You can make this a few days before you entertain and let it sit in the fat in the fridge (see: confit duck legs).

This continued craze over bacon will hopefully cross over to the real thang.  Why?  Because it's somehow way more socially acceptable to have a chunk of confit pork belly instead of a whole plate of bacon for dinner.....


Divide your pork belly up into 4 individual servings.  Sprinkle with 5-spice powder, coriander, and salt.  Let it rest while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Get a pot going on medium-low heat with 1T of sesame oil.  Once it has heated up, brown all 4 sides of each of the sections of belly.

Take the pot off of the heat once you have browned everything and add in the rest of your oil until the bellies are fully covered.  Toss in your whole garlic cloves - skin-on is okay.  Place the lid on the pot and put it in an oven at 200F / 100C.

Let it slowly cook for 5 or 6 hours.  Check to see if it's meltingly tender by pricking it with a knife.  If your pork belly had a bone in it, the meat will shrink away, exposing the bone.

You can either serve right away, or put it in the fridge once it has cooled off.  If the meat is submerged, it should keep for a few weeks.  To serve at a later time, you can heat the whole pot up, or put it in a frying pan with a little of the oil to warm it through.

4 slices pork belly (bone-in is fine as well)
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1.5 tsp 5-spice powder
1 tsp salt
6 whole cloves of garlic
1T sesame oil
~3 cups canola / peanut oil

optional:  top with some sriracha or hot chiles

Creativity options:
  • Mexican:  substitute cumin instead of 5-spice, top with a fresh green salsa
  • Greek:  continue with the cumin idea, make a feta and yogurt sauce.  OR make friends with a nice butcher and get your hands on some lamb belly
  • Italian:  remove the 5-spice, throw a few juniper berries into the oil. Puree rosemary, garlic, and tomato paste together with a bit of olive oil for the sauce.
Song - The Roots - Duck Down
Duck Down by The Roots on Grooveshark

Monday, July 30, 2012

Summertime Pasta Primavera [Rhonda]

Degree of difficulty: easy to medium, only because you're working with angel hair pasta
Time: 15 minutes prep, 10 minutes to cook
Serves: 2 generously

There was a restaurant, Dieci, around the corner and down the street from our E. 84th Street brownstone when Mike and I lived in Manhattan, that served the absolute best pasta primavera, always with snips of fresh basil. Their choice of springtime vegetables--asparagus, snow peas--can be subbed out for seasonal summer produce. The Saturday lunch version you see here is just zucchini, yellow squash, ripe tomatoes and basil.

Two secrets that you already know. One, use real parmesan reggiano. Two, use homemade stock if you have it. Takes it from amazing to ridiculous.

12 ounces angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups or more homemade chicken stock, or canned
Splash of white wine
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 zucchini, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped (I used Roma)
Handful mushrooms, chopped (not used here because of Mike's sad aversion to them)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup or so grated parmesan reggiano
10 or so basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Prep (clean and chop) all veggies. Heat the water for the pasta in small stock pot. Melt butter in saute pan, add garlic and those vegetables that take longer to cook--here, the zucchini and squash.

Saute, then add tomatoes. Add splash of white wine, saute to reduce slightly, add stock. (If you're using canned stock and want to reduce it a bit, strain out the veggies before they are can always add them back in at the last.) The trick is to balance the amount of stock with parmesan cheese--too much cheese (Mike believes there is no such thing) will make the whole dish dry. Too much stock, well, that doesn't work either. Add some of the grated cheese to the sauce, and squeeze just a little fresh lemon juice into it.

Drain the angel hair pasta after cooking it al dente (and watching it! the whole cook process for angel hair is measured in small minutes, 2 or 3, tops). Dump pasta back in stock pot, add vegetables, sauce, basil, salt and pepper, and some parmesan. Toss, taste and adjust seasonings and liquids if necessary. Serve with basil leaves for garnish and a light sprinkle of parmesan.

Suggested soundtrack: Luciano Pavarotti's "Che gelida manina" from La Boheme
Che gelida manina by Luciano Pavarotti on Grooveshark