February 28, 2011

Chicken Gyros

It was supposed to snow in the Bay Area last week. There was a big hullabaloo. It was in all the newspapers, and there was even a website where you could get a minute by minute up date. 

It didn't snow. Well, they're saying it did, but that was only a few flakes falling on the highest hills in the city and the north bay. No snow at sea level. But, it was cold, and rainy, for quite some time. This got us dreaming about warmer climates. Did you know that the Canary Islands have near perfect weather? It seems to be constantly between 60 and 70 degrees. Maybe we'll move there.

In the meantime, we have to satisfy ourselves with foods that make us think of warmer climates. Soups and stews and warm comfort foods are great, of course, but instead of making foods that accompany the weather, we wanted to make foods to defy the weather. We wanted warm, sunny Mediterranean foods. So we set about perfecting our chicken gyros, with creamy tzatziki sauce, hummus, and a Mediterranean salad. In the past, the weakest link has been our chicken, so we took a new approach - instead of just cooking some boneless, skinless breast in a pan, we took a bone-in, skin-on breast, browned it, roasted it with tons of flavors, then took it off the bone and back into the pan to give it a final browning. The results were very tasty, and definitely cold weather defying. 

February 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

When I lived in Brazil, a friend asked me about an amazing and wonderful American thing that she had heard about. It was called pasta de amendoim, and she had seen it in movies, and it looked sooo delicious, and she desperately wanted to try it.

And I had no idea what she was talking about. Those words in Portuguese didn't mean anything to me, but it sounded to me like it should be almond paste. Almond paste doesn't sound very appealing, and there is certainly no such famous American delicacy.

I'm sure you figured it out much more quickly than I did. Yes, pasta de amendoim is peanut butter, and the movie she had seen it in was Meet Joe Black, in which Death comes to earth in the form of Brad Pitt in order to learn about the wonders of life on earth - and one of those wonders is, you guessed it, peanut butter.

February 13, 2011

Braised Pork, Ossobuco Style

We are seriously into braised meats. How come nobody let us in on this little secret earlier? Braising is amazing, because it uses fairly inexpensive cuts of meat (butts, shoulders, and shanks) and gives you incredibly rich, flavorful, and delicious dishes that are perfect served over some kind of flavor-absorbing carbohydrate (polenta, mashed potatoes, risotto, pasta - take your pick). It's not even that labor intensive - all you really need is some time. Chop up a few aromatic vegetables, add some seasonings, wine, stock, and tomatoes, add them to the meat, put them in the oven, and let magic happen.

Riva Cucina is our neighborhood Italian restaurant. We like it there. It's quiet and calm, they know our names, they really know how to make good pasta, and they introduced us to pork ossobuco. Ossobuco is a traditional Italian dish (specifically, from Milan) made with veal shank served over risotto alla milanese (that's also from Milan. Get it?). However you might feel about eating veal, this dish is just as tasty made with pork butt/shoulder (oddly, the "butt" is part of the shoulder). We did make the risotto the first time we tried this out (this epicurious recipe leaves out the traditional ingredient of bone marrow, which we are sure would make it very tasty but honestly there is enough richness and savoriness that you can certainly do without it). This time around we had it over polenta. Both are excellent.

Once you get the idea of braising, you can try it with all sorts of meats and flavors. In fact, as we write this dish up, we've got some lamb shanks braising in the oven with middle eastern spices, and are going to eat it with Israeli couscous.

We checked out a few recipes for inspiration, but the most helpful were Marcella Hazan's traditional Ossobuco, and the Reluctant Gourmet's Pork Osso Buco.

Pork Ossobuco (serves 4-5)

- 3 lbs pork butt (aka "shoulder")
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil, for cooking
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 15 oz can of tomatoes, chopped
- 1 cup vegetable stock (or substitute any other kind of stock)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs of thyme

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the pork, and heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Brown the pork on all sides, then transfer it to a casserole (one that has a lid).

Add the vegetables to the skillet and cook them just until they soften, then add the wine and deglaze the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let most of the wine cook out, then add the stock and chopped tomatoes with bay leaves and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil again, then pour it over the pork in the casserole dish.

Put the lid on the casserole and put the pork in the oven. Cook it for about three hours, or until the pork is tender and falling over the bone. Serve over polenta or your choice of flavor-absorbing carb, and spoon plenty of the liquid and vegetables from the pan on top.

February 6, 2011

Petrale Sole with Warm Farro and Brussel Sprout Salad

We may claim to be omnivorous, but the truth is that we don't eat a whole lot of seafood. In fact, both of us refused to eat any of it for most of our childhoods (with the exception of canned tuna, which really seems as though it should not be classified as seafood). But we discovered something about sole (and other whitefish): it doesn't taste like fish. In fact, it doesn't taste like much of anything. It's really more of a textural thing - and it makes a nice base for other delicious flavors. We coated this fish in flour, sauteed it lightly, and covered it with a lemony winey shalloty sauce, all served over farro with brussel sprouts and toasted almonds.

If you don't like fish, you might just like this one. If you don't like brussel sprouts, on the other hand, this might not be the dish for you.

Warm Farro and Brussel Sprout Salad (serves 2)

- 1/3 cup farro
- (just under) 2/3 cup vegetable stock
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 lb brussel sprouts
- Dash of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup slivered toasted almonds

Farro is a little tricky - we've found that using a 2:1 ratio of liquid to farro is just a little bit more liquid than we need, so we do just a smidge under (fill the second third of a cup not quite to the top). Put the farro and stock in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. When it's boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Let simmer until the farro is tender (about 40 minutes).

Slice off the stems of the brussel sprouts and remove any wilted or dirty looking outer leaves. Slice the brussel sprouts parallel to the stem, making narrow rounds. These will breakdown into confetti-like strips when boiled.

Bring a pot of water to boil and blanch the brussel sprouts by cooking them for 4-5 minutes. Drain them.

Heat some oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. When the garlic has just started to soften, add the brussel sprouts and cook until they are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir the brussel sprouts into the cooked farro, and season with the salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir in the almonds, then keep everything warm in a pot - the fish and sauce are quick so you can make them after you finish the salad.

Sauteed sole (serves 2)

- 1/2 - 2/3 lb petrale sole (or similar white fish)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- Oil, for cooking

Put the flour, salt, and pepper into a large plastic bag. Dredge the fish in the egg, then transfer the pieces to the bag with the flour. Shake it around until the fish is covered with flour.

Heat some oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and, when it is hot, add the fish. Cook until each side is golden brown.

Serve the fish over the salad and spoon the sauce (recipe below) on top.

Lemon Shallot Sauce

- Oil, for cooking
- 2 tbsp chopped shallot
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp white wine
- 1 tbsp butter
- Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook the shallot until it is soft and fragrant. Add the lemon juice and white wine and then the heat up to medium high. Let the sauce boil and reduce for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the butter, salt, and pepper.