May 29, 2011

Girls Just Wanna Have Pho

My obsession for noodles is a direct result of my Mother's love for all things starch.  I love noodles and I don't discriminate.   Spaghetti with red sauce, linguine & clams, angel hair with lemon, butter and cheese, sesame noodles, lo mein with chinese vegetables, egg noodles, spaetzle, kugel (both sweet & savory), soba noodles, fideos, pancit (a Filipino noodle dish), pad thai... but then, there are noodles with broth!   Here is where I start to swoon.

During our childhood we all had chicken noodle soup, I always wanted mine extra noodle-y please (and I still do).  But now there are so many choices to feed this obsession!  Udon, those thick chewy noodles swimming in broth just waiting to be slurped up, ramen noodles (the thing we all survived on during our poor college years), beef noodle soup, Italian wedding soup and last but most certainly not least is Pho.   The Vietnamese "do it yourself" soup.

Although it felt like the middle of July, I needed my fix.  I had to have a bowl of noodles and the weather was certainly not going to deter me.  I was on a mission and there was only one place that would suffice.  I had been craving Pho for weeks and tonight was the night.

My face perched over the bowl inhaling the lime kissed broth, getting a "noodle facial" if you will... knowing full well I'm about to be in gastronomic bliss.  It's the noodles and broth thing that really gets me.  It is the epitome of comfort food.  It's what I want when I'm sick, when I've had a rough day, when it's cold outside or when I just need a little comforting...  and this bowl of noodles did not disappoint.

It was everything I could've asked for.  The broth was sublime, the vegetables still had life to them, the chicken was tender and the noodles were absolute perfection.  I honestly could not have been happier at that moment, with my chopsticks tucked into a pile of rice noodles. 

That's the thing about food, it does more than just feed you...  it nourishes your soul.

May 21, 2011

2 birds, 1 stone

To (selfishly) honor a request for a 5 ingredient or less recipe, I decided to make bruschetta.  For those of you who listen to my whining about what I crave (and sometimes tolerate it), it was time to put up or shut up.  Bruschetta is one of those things that you can barely classify as a "recipe" but it has clean, simple flavors and when made with great ingredients it is amazingly delicious.

There is nothing worse than using those insipid, pale, cellophane-wrapped tomatoes from the supermarket when summer's bounty is about to give you the most luscious, ripe tomatoes you could ask for.  If you are lucky enough to have any kind of green space or even a pot on a fire-escape you know the joy of seeing those little seedlings bear fruit.  Growing your own food is something I long to be able to do,  but in the meantime I go to the farmer's market.

There are farmer's markets everywhere now and there is a world of difference between a tomato that came from a farm and the aforementioned kind... a tomato that hasn't been "genetically engineered".  A tomato that actually tastes like a tomato.

For obvious reasons,  this is best made when tomatoes are in season.  A perfectly ripe tomato is what summer tastes like to me and when making something with such few ingredients, it is essential to have them at their peak. 

baby heirloom tomatoes

For this humble offering of a "recipe"  you will need the following:

a loaf of Italian bread
tomatoes  (3 large -or-  2 pints grape/cherry tomatoes)
garlic  (2 cloves)
basil  (half a bunch)
olive oil (1/4 cup, give or take a little)
salt & pepper to taste (these are ALWAYS freebies, so it's not cheating)

1. Slice the bread.  I like to do it on the bias,  so I have a little more surface area.

2. Drizzle it with a little olive oil, or use a pastry brush and coat it evenly with the olive oil.  Sprinkle on a little salt & pepper.

3. Toast the bread.  If you have a grill pan,  use it.  If not, put it in the oven & toast it at 350 for a few minutes until it is golden brown & crunchy.

4. Dice the tomato, paste the garlic (we'll get to that in a minute) and finely slice (or chiffonade) the basil.

The best way to do this is to stack all of the basil leaves on top of one another and them roll them up length-wise as tightly as you can can.

 Then you slice as thinly as your knife skills will allow and you will have ribbons of basil leaf.

5. To make garlic paste: mince the garlic and then sprinkle a bit of kosher salt over it.  The salt acts as an abrasive, helping to break down the garlic.  With the side of the blade, work the garlic back & forth on the cutting board until you start to see it break down. Pasting fresh garlic is nice because you get all the garlic flavor without biting into a chunk of raw garlic which isn't very pleasant.

6. Add the tomato, garlic and basil to a bowl,  add in a few glugs of good olive oil, salt & pepper to taste and pile on top of your perfectly toasted bread.

7. Devour with unabashed pleasure.

May 17, 2011

17th of May

These days my neighborhood is primarily Italian,  but rewind a couple of decades and you'd see a very different picture.  A few blocks over from where I live now used to be Scandinavian, specifically Norwegian.   The streets used to be lined with Norwegian bakeries, stores, restaurants, etc. but unfortunately the majority of these have disappeared.  However, all is not lost...  every year there is a 17th of May parade, which is a national holiday in Norway marking the signing of their constitution and the best part (besides the food) are the people dressed in traditional clothing showing off their Norwegian pride.

photos courtesy of Keith Alexander

Norwegian food is very subtle and delicate in its flavors and I have been lucky enough to have been exposed to some of its more delicious offerings.

One of my favorite things are Norwegian sandwiches,  it may sound simple and not too exciting but they are delicious!  There are classic sandwiches that all Norwegians are familiar with, but the combinations are virtually endless so it gives you a chance to get your creative juices flowing if you feel like changing it up a bit.

To make Norwegian sandwiches:

You'll need very thin sandwich bread, like the one pictured above, the first step in EVERY sandwich is spreading a thin layer of butter on the bread.   See,  we're off to a great start already!

Next, you choose your toppings.  Norwegian sandwiches are open-faced,  so presentation counts.

Here are a few of my personal fav's:    1. Gjetost (Norwegian cheese), this cheese is almost sweet and caramelly.  I know it sounds like an odd description for cheese, but it is unbelievable.
2. Liverwurst and Sweet Relish
3. Hard-Boiled Egg and Dill
4. Roast Beef and Jarlsberg
5. Ham and Mayo with Dill

the perfect light supper

These meatballs are absolutely superb!

Norsk Meatballs
1/2 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground pork
1/4 lb ground veal
1" slice of bread
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
3 TB chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
pinch of allspice
salt & pepper

-Soak bread in water for 5 minutes.  Mix well with rest of ingredients and shape into balls.  Fry in butter (with a little oil).  Add 2 cups beef stock (or broth) and simmer 15-20 minutes.
-recipe courtesy of Elsa Berg

Although I am not Norwegian (however the Vikings did land in my father's who knows) it is fun to partake in the neighborhood festivities and enjoy the celebration.
Happy Syttende Mai!

May 13, 2011

It's all Greek to me...

Most of us are trying to eat healthier these days & lose a few pounds before we have to put on the dreaded bathing suit.  I am among the masses doing the very same...   I've been eating so much lettuce I'm afraid my front teeth are about to elongate into Bugs Bunny teeth.

The problem with salads, although to be quite honest I do like them,  is the dressing.  You think you are making a good choice by eating a salad for dinner and then you pour on a claggy dressing that has a ton of fat in it so you opt for the (sometimes chemical-laden)  fat free variety,  which in my book isn't always the lesser of two evils.

Making salad dressing at home takes 5 minutes at most and is so much heathier and tastier that it really is worth the very minimal effort.

Tonight's dinner was a Greek salad and chicken, so I made a Yogurt Dill dressing to tie the flavors together.

(A helpful hint to catch the lemon pits is to put a small strainer on top of the blender)

Yogurt Dill Dressing
juice of 2 1/2 lemons
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 seedless English cucumber, diced
7 oz  2% greek yogurt
1 bunch dill, chopped
3 TB avocado oil or grapeseed oil
1/2 clove garlic, minced

-Put all ingredients into the blender & let it rip!

yields: 2 1/2 cups

Store the dressing in a glass jar, refrigerated,  for up 5 days.

*side note:  if you like thicker dressings:  grate the cucumber first and put the pulp in the strainer to let it drain before putting it in the blender.

May 09, 2011

Cod & Tapenade

Some things just go together...  peanut butter & jelly, bacon & eggs,  mashed potatoes & gravy,  champagne & ...  hell, ANYTHING.

For me, another one of those pairings is fish and any kind of salty condiment.  I love salt.  I know it isn't good for you in excess,  but I can't help it.  There are at least 8 different kinds of salt in my kitchen at this very moment.  Smoked Salt, Truffle Salt, Hawaiian Pink Salt, French Sea Salt, Kosher Salt,  Maldon Salt, Australian Pink Flake Salt, Sel Gris,  but NEVER idiodized table salt.

I am not alone in this near-obsession.  As is the case with most Chefs, we have a salty palate.  What I mean by that is we are so accustomed to highly seasoned food that for the average person it can be a bit too salty. (My Mom used to tease me that she was going to buy me a salt lick at the feed store by our house).

To feed my addiction,  I made olive tapenade.  It is one of the most delicious things and it will keep in your refrigerator for over a week.  It can be eaten on its own:  spread of a piece of warm, toasted baguette, or use it as a flavoring on a piece of fish for example.  Luckily for me I have a great  fishmonger a few blocks away, which brings me back to some things just go together...  Fish loves salt.  It doesn't have to come from actual salt,  it can come from bacon, capers or olive tapenade!  If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Where do fish live?  (in salty ocean water...)

When cooking fish,  it is important to let the flavor of the fish really come through.  Don't mask it with too many flavors, spices or heavy condiments,  just give it a boost with something flavorful and delicious.  When using something like olive tapenade,  a little goes a long way.  It is very salty,  so try not to be too heavy-handed with the seasoning on your fish.

This works well with a firm-fleshed mild white fish like cod or halibut,  but i wouldn't do this with lemon sole or any other delicate fish.  For that,  all one would need is a little salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Olive Tapenade
2 cups mixed olives, pitted (kalamata, nicoise, picholine, arbequina,etc)
1 sprig thyme, finely chopped
2 sprigs rosemary,  finely choppped
1/2 bunch parsley,  washed & finely chopped
2 TB capers
2 anchovy fillets
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

- Put everything except the olive oil into the food processor & blend until combined and roughly chopped.
- Using the pulse  button, slowly add in the olive oil until incorporated.

For the fish:
1- 6 ounce portion of cod (about an inch thick)

- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan, over moderately high heat ( use a non-stick pan, unless you enjoy living dangerously...)
- Season fish (lightly) with salt & pepper.

Make sure your pan is hot before you put the fish in.  You want to have a nice golden crust on it and if you don't hear that "sizzle" when the fish goes in,  take it out and wait for the pan to heat up a little more.

Cook the fish for 3-4 minutes each side, squeeze a little lemon over it and add a teaspoon of tapenade.

Cod with Olive Tapenade