Monday, March 30, 2009

Alla Crazy Bastard

You guys have made this tough! When I started this post, I had seven votes for pasta and seven votes for cookies. (Oh, and have you taken my reader survey yet? It's up until Wednesday, so please, Click Here! and tell me your deepest secrets.) Then, last night, one more vote came in, swinging it in favor of pasta.

I gotta say, I was rooting for pasta. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, and if it didn't sound so... well, gross, I'd say I have a green tooth. That is, I can't seem to get enough of them. Plus, look how pretty rainbow chard is! All those beautiful colors from one plant.

And then you toss in some cherry tomatoes and let them get all soft and squishy in a good way. Something about warming up mid-winter cherry tomatoes really does make them taste more tomato-ey.
This recipe comes from Food and Wine, which is one magazine I don't subscribe to. I bought the January issue back at Christmas when I was spending a lot of time in airports. It's by Andy Nusser and apparently it comes from a New Yorker cartoon where the punchline is "fusilli, you crazy bastard!" except... I used gemelli. You can use whatever twisty short pasta you like.

Pasta alla Crazy Bastard
adapted from Food and Wine

serves 2

1/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound fusilli pasta (I used gemelli)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bunch swiss chard, rinsed and coarsely chopped, large stem pieces separated
Pinch of crushed red pepper
4 oz log soft goat cheese, sliced or crumbled
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 450°. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes for about 10 minutes, until browned in spots.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until golden, 2 minutes. Add the chard stems to the pan and cover for about a minute, as they will take longer to soften than the leaves. Add the roasted tomatoes, chard leaves and crushed red pepper and cook, crushing the tomatoes slightly, until the greens are just wilted, about 5 minutes. You may want to cover the pan to help things along.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta, the reserved cooking water and the sliced goat cheese to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, tossing to coat the pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to a bowl, garnish with the chopped toasted walnuts, top with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Well now I feel old!

Whoa. This is my 100th post! And on this momentous occasion, instead of giving you a recipe, I'm going to ask YOU for something. Not your first born child or anything, I'm just curious about you, so I'm asking for a teensy bit of information. Nothing big, just a quick little survey. Click here, it'll be painless, I promise! Click Here to take survey

Oh, and one other question. Which would you rather see next?

Oatmeal "irish coffee" sandwich cookies (coffee + whiskey in cookie form!)

OR Pasta alla Crazy Bastard (goat cheese + tomatoes + greens, oh my!)

Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flank Steak with Potato and Artichoke Hash and Aleppo Aioli

Apparently I'm on a meat kick. You haven't really seen it here because I've posted two meatless, brunch-y recipes in a row, but I have been eating burgers and Reubens and steak like it's my JOB this past week. And I'm usually such a vegetable girl!

That said, I try to listen to my body when it tells me to eat certain things like greens or beef, because I tend to be borderline anemic. Red meat and leafy greens are the most delicious sources of iron I can think of!

It also helps that steak makes Adam very, very happy.

So when I happened across Flank Steak with Artichoke-Potato Hash and Aleppo-Pepper Aioli in the April issue of Bon Appétit, I knew it would be on the menu in short order.

Have I mentioned that I've rediscovered my cast iron pan? I bought it at a yard sale in Vermont four years ago, used it twice, and hid it away in the cupboard. A few months ago I took it out again and it's perfect for things that need to be seared.... and now have noticed the correlation between the cast iron pan and eating more steak lately. Hmmm.

And now I must admit I've never prepared an artichoke before. The recipe calls for eight baby artichokes, which makes sense now that I've done it, but I used three grown-up specimens. More work, pricklier, still delicious. Basically, you lop off the top and start pulling/cutting the leaves off until you get to the pale yellow ones underneath. Since they were big, I cut them into twelve wedges each instead of 8.

I also used Yukon Gold potatoes cut into bite size pieces instead of searching out Russian Banana potatoes because let's face it, we make do with what we have. Oh, and one more thing - see how clear the grain of the meat is in that raw steak photo up there? It is VERY important that you slice it perpendicular to the grain ( + not = ) or the meat will be unpleasantly chewy, not the tender deliciousness you've been anticipating.

Flank Steak with Potato and Artichoke Hash and Aleppo Aioli
adapted from Bon Appetit

2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (can sub sweet paprika + chipotle powder 4:1)
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Sherry wine vinegar

Steak + Hash

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1 1/2- to 2-pound flank steak (mine was 1.25 lbs and plenty for 2 with leftovers)
1/2 lemon
8 baby artichokes, stems trimmed
1 1/4 pounds unpeeled small yellow potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup water
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Start with the aioli. Mash garlic, Aleppo pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt to paste in mortar with pestle or in small bowl with back of spoon. Whisk in remaining ingredients and set aside. (If you're making this ahead of time and refrigerate it, you'll want to give it some time at room temperature to loosen up so it's more drizzle-able.)

Mix thyme, Aleppo pepper, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in small bowl. Rub seasoning mixture into steak (both sides, now!); set aside

Squeeze juice from lemon half into medium bowl of water. Cut 1/2 inch from tops of artichokes. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, break off dark outer leaves until only pale yellow leaves remain. Cut artichokes lengthwise in half; cut each half into 1/2-inch wedges. As you work, place artichoke wedges in lemon water to prevent browning. You may want to rub the cut surfaces with the other half of the lemon, too, before you put them in the water.

Place potatoes in heavy large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover; sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-high and boil until potatoes are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. (Mine took less than that, just start checking around 5 minutes if you've cut them small) Drain and set aside. Now would be a good time to preheat the oven to 400.

Drain artichokes; pat dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichokes and sauté until browned, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, thyme sprigs, and garlic. Cover skillet and simmer over medium heat until artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and boil until no liquid remains, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and potatoes; stir to coat. Add cream and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until potatoes are heated through and browned in spots, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Season hash to taste with salt and pepper.

While the artichokes are browning, heat vegetable oil in heavy large ovenproof skillet (cast iron does a BEAUTIFUL job) over high heat. Add steak and cook until bottom is brown, about 2 minutes. Turn steak over; transfer to oven and roast until cooked to desired doneness, about 7 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer steak to work surface; tent with foil to keep warm. Let rest 10 minutes, while you're finishing the hash.

If needed, rewarm artichoke-potato hash gently over medium heat. Stir in chopped chives. Thinly slice steak perpendicular to the grain. Divide steak and hash among plates. Drizzle some aioli over steak. Serve, passing remaining aioli alongside.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Well, it's the first day of spring, and even thought it's cooold here in Boston, the sun is shining AND I won Paper Chef 38! My fig and mint meatballs with anchovy tomato sauce over creamy polenta has edged out the competition, which means I get to randomly select 3 and purposely select 1 of next month's ingredients. Send in your ingredient ideas to and check out the rules - maybe this month you'll play, too!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Muffins of My Childhood

I know this isn't the most ringing endorsement I'll ever give a baked good, but: this is a solid muffin. It comes together lightning quick (mixing bowl to table in half an hour!), it tastes good, and it makes the house smell fantastic. It's flavored with nutmeg, though I usually add a bit of cinnamon to the batter as well as to the top of the muffin. Adam and I whipped up a batch to take to a birthday brunch last weekend, and I think that's their best application. They're small, so one is not enough for breakfast (at least not for me, but take that as you will) but they are a good supplement to a larger spread.

These are the muffins my mom used to make before church when I was little, and I thought "donut muffin" was just what we called them, but apparently that's their real name!

Doughnut Muffins
adapted from the Marjorie Standish Cooking DownEast Cookbook

1 large egg
1/3 cup cooking oil (canola or vegetable)
1/2 cup milk or plain yogurt
1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
cinnamon, sugar, and butter for the tops of the muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Using a fork, beat egg in mixing bowl. Add oil and milk or yogurt. Continue beating with fork. Sift flour, measure and sift with sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add to mixture and stir with fork, very lightly. Turn into 12 greased muffin tins. (Next time I'll use 9 instead of 12, they were awfully tiny. Fill the empty cups with water so they don't warp in the oven.) Sprinkle each muffin with a mixture of sugar and cinnamon and put a dot of butter or margarine on top of each. Bake at 400 degrees about 20 minutes. Best served warm.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm not going to end this post with a recipe for corned beef and cabbage, or try to get you to drink green beer, but Sunday was South Boston's annual St. Patrick's day parade so I'm going to show you some pictures of cute kids.

(and one cute dog.)
And girls in matching flag sweaters.
And little girls with flags.

And little boys sharing their beads. Aw.

And me with the mayor! Pardon me sir, would you mind taking a picture with me? Sure, let's face this way because of the light. Wow, Mr. Mayor, you're better at this than I am. Yeah, I do this for a living.
Balconies were popular.

And there were some clowns. Very observant clowns.

Oh, and storm troopers. Did you know they were Irish?

Also, the parade is a day for costumes.

This one is questionable at best, but her friends thought it hilarious that I wanted a picture.

I'm pretty sure I went to college with this guy (in the Maine shirt) but I didn't see him until I uploaded my photos. Tyler? Is that you?

And also there were old guys in a band on an old fire truck. Plus it was 55 degrees and sunny. Not a bad St. Patrick's day tradition. Not bad at all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Eggs in Toast

I wish I could claim credit for this idea. Alas, I cannot, because it's Zoe's (one of the authors of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, you may recall my obsession), but I can show you how it turned out for me!

Essentially, you roll out some dough, tuck it into a muffin tin, and slide an egg all cozy into the little toasty basket. I skipped the bacon but I did put some cheese in the bottom, and after I took this photo I added several hearty shakes of Frank's Red Hot sauce. I make myself an egg and some toast every morning so I have it down to a seven minute science... these take a little longer, but I think they would make a great addition to a brunch menu. Yum!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In which I finally participate, or, Paper Chef 38

I have not been blogging for that long. Well, there were those four or five misguided months freshman year of college during which I thought everyone and their mom wanted to know about who sneezed in my English lit class, but let's save that for another time, shall we? This blog has been up and running for almost a year (note to self: think of something tasty for blog-o-versary) but I have yet to participate in any of the popular blog events that come around every weekend, or every Tuesday, or every Friday. But when I stumbled across the Paper Chef phenomenon, I was intrigued.

So here's the story. The first full weekend of every month is Paper Chef weekend. On Wednesday, the previous month's winner randomly selects three ingredients from a list of suggestions, and a fourth of their own choosing. Then you have to use them all in one dish. Hmmmm.

This month's chosen ingredients are fig, mint, anchovy, and polenta. Again I say, hmmmm.

First I thought of tapenade: figs, olives, anchovies, mint, all mashed together on a fried polenta crudite would be easy enough.

But then I remembered that meatloaf I made a while back that had prunes finely chopped and mixed right in. And I love mint in savory dishes - I sometimes confuse the flavor with basil, actually. Oh and anchovies are a great base for tomato sauce (no, mom, they don't taste like fish, they taste... nutty) and then I ended up with this:

Here are some things I would do differently: I wish the polenta had been creamier, so next time I'll use more water (and more butter!). I wish the tomato sauce had been less watery (though I think it looks ok) but I only had diced tomatoes, not pureed, and I was too hungry to let it reduce a lot. I LOVED the meatballs. Seriously. Mint and fig set off the savory beef and onion very well - I'll make these again, maybe to put in fresh pitas with a sauce of mint, yogurt and lemon.

Fig and Mint Meatballs with Anchovy Tomato Sauce over Creamy Polenta
serves 4

For the Meatballs:
1 lb ground beef (I used 90/10 which was just lean enough for me)
1/2 cup dried mission figs, finely chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 a cup)
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 large clove garlic, minced or grated
3 tbsp basil, finely chopped
2 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1/8 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper, about 1/2 tsp each

For the sauce:
6 anchovy fillets (packed in oil, rinse them first if you got salt-packed)
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1 tbsp butter
1 28 oz can good quality diced tomatoes (or pureed tomatoes, see notes)
2 tbsp basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint, finely chopped

For the polenta:
1 cup polenta, not pre-cooked, but instant (5 minutes cooking time) is fine
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt

For garnish:
basil chiffonade
whole mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 375. Then, while you chop the herbs and onion for the meatballs, soak the finely chopped figs in some hot water, just to soften them up a bit. Let them sit for five minutes or so, then drain them thoroughly. Combine with all the other meatball ingredients in a bowl and mix, with your hands, until combined. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil on a baking sheet, and form the meatball mixture into about 18 balls, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake for 12 -15 minutes until cooked through, turning once if you like, and until there are some brown crispy bits on the tops.

While the meatballs bake, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over medium high heat, and add the anchovy fillets. After a minute or so, you can start smushing them with a wooden spoon; they will eventually "melt" into the sauce. After two more minutes, add the grated or minced garlic, and saute for 30 seconds to 1 minute or until you can smell it. Add the can of diced tomatoes and let simmer for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes soften. Begin smushing the tomatoes with the wooden spoon, you're going for a sauce, but a chunky one. The meatballs are probably done now - just set them aside, it will all come together in a couple of minutes. Tent them with foil if you like, to keep them warm. Add the basil and mint to the sauce, stir, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

While the tomatoes simmer, prepare the polenta according to package directions. The brand I found said to bring four cups of salted water to a boil, then add one cup of polenta in a slow stream, whisking constantly, then whisking for 5 minutes over low heat until it thickens. It thickens FAST and it's so thick that the bubbles are violent. Whisking constantly is not a recommendation, it's a must, and it helps to have another person in charge of whisking. After five minutes, add the butter and parmesan to the polenta, taste, and add more salt if necessary.

To plate, lay the polenta in a circle in the middle of a wide bowl or dish, top with tomato sauce, and put 3-4 meatballs on top, garnish with chiffonade basil and a mint leaf.

Note: I was going for something sort of pretty, but if you've gotten the timing off a little, you could add the meatballs back to the tomato sauce and simmer for a few minutes to warm them up.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Salmon, butter, and marjoram

One of the thing that simultaneously frustrates and thrills me about Mark Bittman's recipes is that they're often written in a casual, off the cuff style, listing dozens of options for substitutions and tweaks. When I was learning how to cook for serious a couple of years ago, and full of self doubt, that kind of thing drove me crazy: how much IS a "knob" of butter? What's a palmful? How big is my hand? Where am I? And what happened to my pants? Ok, kidding about the last part, but now that I'm more comfortable in the kitchen I too can be obnoxiously casual about things like substitutions! Check out the end notes on the Salmon Roasted in Butter from Bitten.

Salmon, fat, herbs: how can you go wrong? It would be awfully difficult, I think. And this recipe is gosh darn simple: heat the oven, put butter and herbs in a baking dish in the oven. A few minutes later, add the salmon, a few minutes after that, flip it, skin it, season it. Easy as pie. Way easier, actually, and the salmon was incredibly moist... butter will do that. Plus, I got to use more marjoram, huzzah! Served with broccoli rabe and beans (which makes a fine dinner on its own, as well as being a great side), this made a nice little weeknight meal for two with plenty of leftovers. I'm already looking forward to lunch.
Salmon Roasted in Butter
adapted from Mark Bittman

4 T butter
2 T marjoram leaves, chopped finely
1-2 lbs salmon filet (I had two under-a-pound filets)
salt and pepper
lemon wedges
Heat the oven to 475F. Add the butter and half the marjoram to the pan, and put the pan in the oven for 3 minutes or until the butter is melty and starting to bubble a little. Add the salmon, skin up, and roast for 4 minutes.
Remove from the oven and carefully peel the skin off. Season with salt and pepper, then flip the filets and season again with salt and pepper. Roast another 4 minutes. Cut into portions and serve with a squeeze of lemon and some butter from the pan, sprinkled with the other half of the herbs.
Serves 4 (generously)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Marjoram: an update

Adele posted a comment on my previous marjoram post and mentioned "a hilarious piece" by Australian food writer Terry Durack. Well, hooray Google, because I managed to track down his book, Hunger, on google books (check it out here). The piece is called "The Unsung Herb" and it IS hilarious:

"... in the meantime, prim and proper miss marjoram is forced to eke out a living in odd jobs like being scattered over a light cheese omelette..."

Hee. I think I might get to use marjoram tonight (yes I still have some and yes it's still green). I'll keep you posted.