Tuesday, December 30, 2008

coq au vin? je pense pas!

I can’t help it. I do believe in Culinary Evils of the World and I do believe fabricating a chicken is one of them. And I try, I really do try. All through culinary school I tried. But I always fail in one way or another. I cut off too much meat. I don’t take off enough meat. I break off the wrong bone. I sever an artery.
And yes, I can blame it on the fact that I’ve been so terribly spoiled with those packaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts ready to go, calling my name in the meat section of the grocery store.
But every now and then, I have to walk into that store and look away from those packaged-for-my-convenience-meats and go right to those whole, big birds.
I have to do it because there is no other way to make a Coq Au Vin.

Alright, so I can’t technically call it a Coq Au Vin, because traditional Coq Au Vin is made with rooster and who doesn’t remember the part of Top Chef when Casey was practically ripped apart for mis-naming her dish.
Oh, please.
Rooster or not, it’s poultry.
I still remember a recipe from culinary school that called for 2 ounces of wine. Two ounces?? Really?? I don’t think so.
My version borders on the untraditional. And that’s just fine with me. I start with a whole bird and hack away. The carcass and extra bits, such as the wings, go right into a big pot for chicken stock. The chicken stock simmers away for an hour and then I begin on the actual Coq Au Vin.
This is a Sunday meal, or in my case, a Monday meal. When my day off translates into a whole day of cooking. The chicken simmers away on the stove in red wine and stock and the house is draped in its scent. It’s just one of the best things.
And unlike that container of who-knows-what hanging around the back of the fridge, these leftovers beg to be eaten.
I’ve served this with buttery, rich mashed potatoes. I’ve served it with buttered noodles. Anything to catch the irresistible sauce, anything to run your fork across the plate with to mop up that luxurious sauce. It is luxury on a plate, and to think it was once a peasant dish...
This is slightly untraditional, but so incredibly delicious.

Coq Au Vin
1 whole roasting bird, 6-7 pounds
salt, pepper
vegetable oil

4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
½ medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
8 oz cremini mushrooms, quartered
2 T tomato paste
½ to a whole bottle of your favorite red wine (I usually opt for a Merlot)
1 cup chicken stock

1. Prepare bird by cutting off legs, thighs, and breasts. Season liberally with salt and pepper and set aside. The carcass can either be put to use for a wonderful homemade stock or just thrown away.
2. In a big stainless steel pot, cook the bacon until the fat has been rendered and it is crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Add in a touch more oil and dredge each piece of chicken in flour before searing off the in the hot pan. You want a nice golden brown crust. Once the chicken has browned, set aside.
4. Add in more oil as needed and saute the onions, garlic, and mushrooms for a couple of minutes. Wait until they are slightly tender. Stir in the tomato paste.
5. Pour in your bottle of wine. It will sizzle and smoke up, but also release the bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir and pour in the chicken stock.
6. Add the chicken and bacon back to the pot and bring down to a simmer. Let it simmer away for 1 ½ hours until the meat is super-tender and liquid has reduced to a nice sauce.

Sit down and thoroughly enjoy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

fall's here; soup's on

If there’s one thing I really love around this time, it’s soup. Even living in season-challenged South Florida, chilly days come around and they long to be taken advantage of! This means a big pot of hearty soup simmering away on the stove. This means throwing anything and everything into a pot, covering it up with some stock, and making a comforting masterpiece.
Soup is the idea of comfort, the idea of warmth. Soup is one of the earliest memories I have with my grandparents. It’s something my mom used to sneak in some vegetables. It’s the perfect companion for a fall day.
The great thing about soup is that there is never a set anything. It’s a big pot of everything you want, everything you have, everything you need to use up. It will cook away and turn into a bowl of happiness.
The type of happiness that can always be associated with fall. Because fall is, after all, the reminder that the holidays are coming, the new weather settling in, the dusting off of jackets, and the revival of soup.

Beef & Vegetable Soup
1 lb top round steak
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ large onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1 can diced tomatoes, optional
1 qt chicken stock
1-2 bay leaves

other options: just about any veggie you want.

1. Heat up olive oil in pot until almost smoking hot. Meanwhile, cut steak into ½ inch cubes. Drop into oil and season with salt and pepper. Brown.
2. Remove meat and toss in garlic, onion, celery, and carrots. Bring down heat and saute for a minute. Add in potatoes and saute for a minute or two more.
3. Add tomatoes, stock, and bay leaves and drop down to a medium simmer. Simmer for 1 hour, or until meat is tender.
4. Serve up with a nice piece of garlic toast.

Simple and oh-so-delicious.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

oh, gnocchi!

There’s a little tradition in Argentina. One that involves eating gnocchi the 29th of every month for good luck.
Homemade gnocchi of course.
Gnocchi - like risotto, really - is so hard to get made right.
Listen, if I want a gummy mess I’ll go to the corner store and pick up a pack of gum. This is gnocchi we’re talking about: light and fluffy potato dumplings that are shaped like little pillows for a reason, don’t you think?
We’re talking a necessity for fluffy and soft, delicate and smooth.
And when it comes down to it there is no reason you shouldn’t take some time out to make it yourself.
This little recipe? Around 30 minutes to make. I could compete with Rachel Ray if I wanna go there (...and I particularly don’t..).
I use both sweet and russet potatoes because I like the texture I get from the mix of both. Just the right consistency.
The trick is to not overwork the dough. Don’t fuss with it. But let’s be honest: don’t be afraid to get your hands a little dirty either.
I guarantee it’ll be better than any gnocchi you ever bought.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
in a simple tomato sauce

1 lb sweet potatoes
1 lb russet potatoes
1 egg
about 1 cup flour (possibly more)

simple tomato sauce:
olive oil/butter
garlic, chopped
½ cup onion, chopped
½ cup red wine
1 can diced tomatoes
salt, pepper
fresh basil, chopped

1. Peel and dice potatoes. Throw into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook til fork-tender.
2. Drain and return to pot to evaporate as much water as possible. The drier the potatoes, the less flour you will need.
3. Mash and cool.
4. Once cool, get a pot of water on to boil and heat up olive oil and butter in a separate pot.
5. Saute garlic and onion until tender and deglaze the pan with wine. Reduce wine down to a glaze and add in tomatoes. Reduce heat to a simmer and season to taste.
6. Take cooled, mashed potatoes and mix in the egg. Once mixed in, add in the flour. Start with ½ cup and continue to add in a little at a time until you get a very soft, but pliable dough. Depending on moisture, you may need only a little or a good bit.
7. On a floured surface, take a ball of dough and roll out into a rope. Cut off 1-inch pieces and drop into boiling, salted water. Continue to do this until all dough is gone...it will get pretty gooey and messy.
8. Keep an eye on the gnocchi in the water: once they float, they are done. Remove from water and drop right into sauce. Add in basil and the end and fold in gently.

A good hunk of bread complements this meal rather fabulously, too.
Oh, and good luck.

Monday, October 20, 2008

casa d'angelo

Walking into Casa d’Angelo is like walking into another world. A fabulous one you never want to leave, I might add.
Praised as one of the best Italian restaurants in South Florida - and possibly the whole country - this is a place to check out.
It was a birthday outing with the ladies and we happened to get a quaint little table in the wine room. A cozy room with wine bottles filled to the top, kept at the perfect temperature. Walking through Casa d’Angelo, Italian filled the air. Chef Angelo Elia was walking around ensuring that everybody was pleased. The tables had crisp, clean white tablecloths and there was a perfect view into the woodburning ovens.

Our waiter came by in no time and explained all of the specials for the evening from the soup of the day to the beef carpaccio and lobster tail appetizers to the chilean sea bass and braised short ribs with polenta; the risotto of the day and the gnocchi of the day to the veal special of the day and the lamb special of the day - and all in his sexy accent.
Of course, we were four women out to eat and after that fabulous greeting, there was no way we’d be deciding our entrees anytime soon. He was incredibly patient.
The wine list is extensive. Extensive and dizzying, especially if you’re not a wine afficionado. I was leaning towards a meat dish and asked for a recommendation on a light red, possibly sweet. He brought out a glass of pinot noir, possibly house, and it was just what I wanted. He asked how I liked it and even offered to get me a new wine if I didn’t like it.
Oh, the service.
A plate of bruschetta and rosemary flatbread came to the table and we munched while deciding. While leaning towards the wonderful veal chop special, my heart was calling out for the porcini mushroom risotto with shaved white truffle. I couldn’t resist. It is just so hard to get good risotto these days!
The great thing is you can order any pasta dish as a half order and so we opted for the rigatoni alla norcina - with homemade sausage, san marzano tomato sauce, and mushrooms with fresh ricotta. We also spoiled and got the eggplant appetizer, melanzane ripiene, which is like an eggplant lasagna: layered with cheese and prosciutto and a side of warm cannelini beans with olive oil.
At first bite the rigatoni seemed slightly underdone, but continuing to eat it, you realize it is cooked perfectly. With that perfect bite. The sauce was sweet and the sausage had such a delicate flavor. It was divine. The eggplant was a simple, perfect bite.
The entrees came around after. The risotto was placed in front of me and the smell that came up was like heaven. A man came behind with a hunk of white truffle kept in a little container of arborio rice. He let me smell the truffle and all its earthiness, and then it was delicately shaved over the risotto. The ladies ordered the beef short ribs with polenta, the gnocchi of the day with spinach and a four cheese cream sauce, and the snapper - another fish special.
The beef short ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, the gnocchi were pillowy puffs of goodness swimming in the sauce and the snapper had fabulous presentation, but nothing came close to the risotto. The absolutely divine risotto.
This is what risotto should be. Not the gummy, tasteless mess served at -ahem- Casablanca Café. This was love on a plate. You could taste the love that went into it. The constant stirring and watching and adding and getting that perfect creamy consistency. It was the perfect consistency. You could taste a hint of white wine and the mushroom flavor permeated throughout. It was a taste of perfection.

The desserts came later - a happy birthday plate. We were served a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, a warm apple tart with cinnamon ice cream, and the tiramisu.
The chocolate cake is what you should expect from chocolate cake, but very rarely get. It was the perfect little bite of chocolate. Not terribly rich, not dry, not terribly dense. It was just good. And the vanilla ice cream? For something so simple, it is very hard to find good vanilla ice cream. When you do, it’s a real treat. This was good vanilla ice cream. The apple tart was flaky and crisp and the cinnamon ice cream had a nice warmth to it. The tiramisu - a staple of course - was subtle and smooth in flavor. Everything is almost muted and then little by little the flavors seem to pop in your mouth and you get the tastes of mascarpone and coffee and rum.
The great thing is menu items range from $10 to $30. There are a few items that are around the $38 - $40 range and the specials are priced accordingly, of course (like that fabulous porcini-white truffle risotto? be prepared for its nice little price tag of $62), but it’s just a real treat.
So what can you say? All in all a fantastic meal. Well worth every penny and well worth all of the praise.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the taco bell love affair

it's important for you to know how much disgust i had for taco bell for so many years.
and the rumors didn't help.

"i hear that people who work at taco bell won't even talk about it"
"i heard it was grade d meat and dog food is grade c"
"it's probably cats"
"it's not real food"
(and let's not even get into those awfully annoying chihuahua commercial bits)

unfortunately, in one late party night, my drunk boyfriend wanted some taco bell. and so we went through the drive thru and i suddenly found myself craving the crunch of a taco shell and the combination of the ground meat and cheese and taco sauce all partying in your mouth.

and so i ordered one.

tilting my head to eat a taco like you have to do....and realizing: "oh my god, this is delicious".
and at the end of the day (or perhaps bright and early in the morning?) alcohol and tacos seem to mix so fabulously. they are a match made in heaven.
just don't tell chef andy who would truly shudder at the thought of a culinary school grad loving taco bell and (yeah, wendy's cheeseburgers are greasy gooey bites of delight).

in all fairness: taco night with really good pico de gallo and fried taco shells and slowly-simmered-for-three-hours-taco meat is just as divine.

taco bell is just that cheap late night thrill.
and who doesn't love one of those?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

the birthday baking week: birthday cake

Last in the birthday week was my brother Alex. Whose birthday always seems to fall smack-dab in the middle of a hurricane. But not this year. Oh no, he got the sunshine and the clear blue skies and the two-tiered-but-you-can’t-really-tell cake. Good ol’ vanilla with a thin layer of dulce de leche (just about the best thing ever) and a good spread of white chocolate mousse. Frosted all around with an amaretto whipped cream and topped off with almonds, this one was the talk of the party.
Oh how I love a good birthday. And a good birthday dessert.

Alex's Birthday Cake
vanilla cake
(from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook...with adjustments..)
1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
4 eggs
2 3/4 c cake flour
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 c milk
2 t vanilla extract

dulce de leche*

white chocolate mousse:
6 oz white chocolate, chopped
12 oz cream
1/2 envelope of gelatin

amaretto whipped cream:
3 c cream
3/4 c sugar
2 T amaretto (or more. i do love amaretto..)

almonds, chopped, optional

1. For the cake: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cream the butter and sugar together until, you know, "light and fluffy". Add in the eggs one at a time.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the batter alternating with the milk,1/4 at a time.
3. Pour into 3 lightly greased 9" cake pans and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (I made a deep 10" cake and an 8" one here").
4. Meanwhile: heat 6 oz of cream and gelatin in a small saucepan until just below boiling. Put chocolate into a bowl and pour hot cream over. Whisk until melted. Cool.
5. For the remaining 6 oz of cream, whisk until medium peaks and fold into the cool white chocolate ganache. Refrigerate to let set.
6. Once the cakes have cooled, cut each in half horizontally and let us begin to assemble!
7. Spread a thin layer of dulce de leche on the cake layer (an easy way to do this is to melt it down in the microwave for a couple of seconds). Next spread on a good bit of the white chocolate mousse. Continue through all cake layers.
8. Whip up the cream in a bowl until stiff peaks form. While whisking, gradually add in the sugar and amaretto.
When done, frost all around the cake and top off decoratively with the almonds.

*sorry, but this a point where caramel just won't do. dulce de leche is just rich and decadent and gooey and delicious. it's got so much more depth of flavor than caramel and i could eat jars of the stuff everyday. available in some supermarkets, but i pick mine up at the argentinian grocer down the street.

Oh, do enjoy this one.

Friday, August 29, 2008

the birthday baking week: banana cream pie

It always seemed most birthdays occurred during June. That was until I met a plethora of people who happened to celebrate in August...3 of them in the same week that I decided to bake for.
And guess what? I succeeded!
First up: Todd, the turning-39 rockstar with the cutest little kid. Who was not picky about anything I made, but told me he loved pie. And bananas.
Banana cream pie, it was.
Honestly, my first attempt, but I do well with pairing flavors and winging it. So I did. And it was delicious and adored by all.

Banana Cream Pie
pie dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 t salt
½ cup butter, cold
2-3 T ice water

chocolate layer:
2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 oz cream

pastry cream:
1 ½ cups milk
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 T flour
2 t vanilla
3 bananas, sliced

rum whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 T rum (or more if you prefer, and who doesn’t love more alcohol...?)

1. For the dough: Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Combine the dry ingredients together. Cut in the flour until thoroughly mixed and add in water a little at a time until a dough forms. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
2. Roll out and fit around a 9 inch pie pan. Dock and bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool.
3. Meanwhile: heat up the cream and pour over the chocolate. Whisk to melt. This seems like a rather stupid-small amount. And it is. I usually make big batches and keep it in the refrigerator to melt and use whenever I need it. The usual ratio is 1 to 1.
4. For the pastry cream: heat up the milk. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until nice and combined. Slowly ladle in some of the hot milk and whisk quickly. No scrambled eggs, please. Ladle in about half of the milk then pour it all back into the pot and let it come to a slight boil. Once the cream has thickened, take it off the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Chill.
5. The whipped cream is simple: whisk the cream and slowly add in the sugar and rum. Whisk to medium-stiff peaks and you’re done.
6. In assembling, pour the chocolate ganache over the crust and make a thin layer. Add the sliced bananas. Pour in the pastry cream and top off with the whipped cream.

It’s gooey and a bit messy and super delicious.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

a list for the rainy day

current weather: tropical-storm-possibly-hurricane-really-annoying-and-rainy.
throughout the years i've devised this small list of places i'd just love to eat one day. it continues to grow. but here is the current standing:

My To-Eat List
1. El Bulli, Spain: currently the best restaurant in the world and a forerunner in the latest culinary fad, 'molecular gastronomy'. The whole restaurant itself comes across as very fascinating to me.

2. The French Laundry, California: I remember the moment Chef Richard stated "The French Laundry is the best restaurant in the world" and I immediately thought "this is a place I want to know".

3. Chez Panisse, California: I will say Ruth Reichl’s memoirs and funny Berkeley stories had me draw interest in Chez Panisse. Aside from Chef Richard who also made it a point to mention the true passion of Alice Waters.

4. Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago: Chef Richard talked a lot about chefs and food professionals he felt we had to know. Charlie Trotter was a big name. I’ve grown fascination ever since.

5. Big Bar, Chicago: whatever, I saw it on "Unwrapped". They have giant martinis and giant chocolate cake. Sorry, but a girl can’t ask for anything more.

6. Le Bernardin, New York: Eric Ripert interests me. Him and his sexy french accent. Oh, I cant help it!

7. Oh, anywhere in Paris.

le sigh...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

it's bananas! (b-a-n-a-n-a-s!)

it is, oh, about 95º outside right now.
yeah, it’s not like the 108º in vegas, but guess what?
it still sucks.
and it just has me craving something icy cold and delicious.
no, not beer.
but good guess.
ice cream.
banana ice cream, to be exact.
with chocolate. and walnuts. sort of a homemade version of ben & jerry’s chunky monkey.
can you resist??
hell no.
i liked this recipe when i came across it cause it seemed simple enough, and i loved the fact that it didn’t call for a ridiculous amount of eggs. if it’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s eggy ice cream.

this is just perfect. and there is a pretty good chance it will all be gone by tomorrow. i just cant help it...

Banana Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
(recipe from Cat Cora at foodnetwork.com - though some changes have been made)

1 cup cream
1 pint milk
1 1/4 cups vanilla sugar (or regular granulated)*
2 egg yolks
2 bananas, pureed**
½ cup mini chocolate chips, or chocolate chopped
½ cup walnuts, chopped.

1. Heat cream, milk, and 1 cup of sugar to a light boil.
2. Meanwhile whisk yolks with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. When liquid has come to a boil, slowly pour into egg mixture while constantly whisking. Pour about 1 cup of the liquid in.
3. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot and bring back up to a boil until it thickens. It won’t thicken too much because there is a small amount of egg, but it should lightly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add in the pureed bananas.
4. Cool completely, for about 1 1/2 hours.
5. When mixture has thoroughly chilled, pour into ice cream machine and churn 20-25 minutes. About 20 minutes in, add in chocolate and walnuts and continue to churn until done. Freeze until hardened.
Or, you could do like me and eat it right out of the machine, freshly churned. It’s just irresistible.
Looks like you’ve got yourself an icy cold treat for those long summer days.

*alright, i'm a vanilla sugar whore. i just can't help that. the recipe called for vanilla bean (which is just as good) to be seeped with the cream and milk. one teaspoon of extract added in at the end works wonders, too.

**the recipe called for 1/2 cup banana, chopped. for more banana flavor, i pureed 2 bananas. i'm sure the former is great, too.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Welcome to Moe’s! Not in this college town...

Moe’s is total college town material.
The first time I went to Moe’s was in Tallahassee (if we’re gonna talk about college towns, let’s talk...). The place was packed. All I remember is a slew of college kids working behind the counter: some grilling up chicken and fajitas, some
taking orders, everybody being cheery. This was fun atmosphere. This was vibrant atmosphere. And when I decided on my burrito, they handed me a foil-wrapped burrito the size of my head.
I remember feasting on my chips and salsa and struggling to finish the cheesy, gooey, delicious burrito.
It was broke college kid food. And good broke college kid food at that. Truly delicious.
So you could only guess the excitement I felt when I found out they had opened one right next to my school. Indeed, college kid food. And so friends and I participated in Moe Thursdays where students got discounts. We ate there as much as possible filling up on the thick, rich queso and the tomatillo salsa that was always my favorite. Nice burst of cilantro, nice mild tomatillo flavor.
We’d walk out stuffed.
Graduation came around and I had to depart from my lovely Moe’s. But would you believe my luck - a new Moe’s was set to open 5 minutes from my house (and 5 minutes from all the other colleges, duh). I was ready for my Moe’s again.
My first experience at the new Moe’s was with my old Moe’s companion. We ordered our usual, but it just didn’t taste the same. We left. I didn’t go back for quite a while, but one day decided I was in burrito-mood.
Walking in, I ordered my usual: the Joey Bag of Donuts burrito. Rice, no beans, chicken, cheese, pico de gallo. Side of queso. Thank you.
The tortilla was steamed. The rice went on next. Oh, about 1/4 cup. Then the chicken, which wasn’t much more than the rice. Next the tablespoon sprinkle of cheese and the pico de gallo. When it was wrapped up in the foil in became the smallest burrito I had ever been served from them...ever. My side of queso was dropped in the bag along with the tortilla chips. I opted not to get my beloved tomatillo salsa because the salsa bar was so unbearably uninviting with dry, chunky salsa being offered.
When I got to work and opened my bag, I couldn’t believe how cheap they were. The thick, rich queso I grew to love was nothing more than barely thickened milk with some american cheese probably thrown in. I dipped one of my 10 tortilla chips into the queso. There was still flavor, but not how it used to be. Then I tried my burrito - my burrito that was probably a quarter of the size of what I used to get. My burrito that was probably a good 5 bites before it was over. There was barely any cheese to get that nice cheesy flavor. There was barely any rice to get that great rice flavor mingling with the other ingredients. And the pico de gallo was overpowering and just annoying.
I was so terribly disappointed. My only thought was "Taco bell is so much better".
And if you understood the years of gross-ness I felt for taco bell, you would understand that thought was practically radical.
And yet, their crunchy tacos with packets of mild sauce are so much better than that awful 5-bite burrito I was served at a place I used to once love.
No more Moe’s for me. Unless I make some stop in Tallahassee one day (where I will say I had the best Moe’s experience) or I make the drive out to my old school to enjoy what I used to think Moe’s embodied: burritos the size of my head, rich gooey queso, and tomatillo salsa you can’t help but love.
Unfortunately, for the college kids of Davie, there is no love here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

olé olé mis amigos!

In all honesty, my favorite part of going out to Vila’s - or any other "Mexican" restaurant for that matter - is that fabulous basket of just-out-of-the-fryer tortilla chips and the slightly spicy, not too chunky, just right for dipping salsa.
I could eat baskets and baskets of those, really.
So every now and then I do get inspired to make it at home. I’m really not a fan of frying at the house. It just makes everything fry-stinky.
But at the end of the day, buying a bag of Tostito’s and ripping it open just won’t do. This calls for some home-fried goodness.
Only those warm, crunchy chips can be a true vehicle for the cold pico de gallo.
When I make this, I really just guess amounts. I start off with a couple of tomatoes and some onion. Bunches of this, bits of that. I taste and then decide what I want more of - or if it’s perfect as is.
The perfect mid-summer snack. And I guess you could use Tostito’s if you really wanted to. But just buying a bag of corn tortillas and frying those suckers up yourself really is so so so good.
Where’s my sombrero when I need it??

Simple Pico de Gallo
2 large tomatoes, diced
½ small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until desired consistency.
If you do prefer your pico de gallo on the chunky side, chopping everything up by hand is just as good.
And - if I do say so myself - chip, salsa and cheddar cheese tastes extra delicious.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

the flay-meister

I will say, I never minded Bobby Flay too much.
Boyfriend hated him, but I really had to give the guy some credit. And then overnight, Flay-man turned into the poster child for Food Network in all his annoying glory.
Everything Food Network has to involve the guy in one way or another - essentially almost as bad as (dare I say) Rachel Ray.
From Throwdown to that Grill It! thing where "you mean I can cook up some burgers and hot dogs with Bobby Flay on tv for no reason at all??!", it’s all so overdone and idiotic.
He grills, we get it. He makes guacamole and uses lots of tortillas, we get it.
As as a man of his stature - having people say "ooooh bobby flay!" - I will say I’m rather bored.
His new effort is Bobby Flay Steak in Atlantic City, NJ. The way I see it, the premise of a steakhouse is to serve steak.
Aside from having a fairly limited menu (not that I necessarily enjoy the cheesecake factory variety), 90% is all seafood. There is one section dedicated to the "Spice Rubbed Steaks with Bobby Flay Barbecue Sauce" and a small selection of chops including one veal, one chicken, one pork. Ooooh. The guy has turned himself into a brand.
And you know, it really does work for some people (ahem, Mrs. Stewart). But there are tacky ways of going about the brand thing. He’s tacky. And annoying.

And maybe part of the reason I consider his menu limited is because lobster is listed at least 10 times.
I get that whole using-similar-things-more-than-once thing, but redundancy has its cons.
And let’s not get into the "grilled chicken with bacon mustard vinaigrette". How about I make it at home and save myself the $29? Really.
And as for side dishes, there are at least 5 different ways he serves up a potato. Smashed with creme fraiche, fried, hash brown-ed, mashed, gratin-ed.
For somebody who won those James Beard Awards and had such critical acclaim, I’m really not entirely impressed.
Want to stick with the cuisine? Try some Rick Bayless for a change.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

give pie a chance: an ode to waitress

i don't like pie.
well, let me rephrase: i didn't like pie.
it's a pie-dough-is-evil thing. it's a cooked fruit thing.
and yes, that does mean no apple pie.
(cue gasp).
but one blockbuster night, i sat on my couch to enjoy the oh-so-lovely "waitress" - with that felicity girl keri russell in some of her best work.
and she makes pies! damn good, delicious pies.
i decided, i gotta give pie another chance. i gotta try again.
and so i baked up an apple pie. the traditional, the basic.
unfortunately, i still hate apple pie. i still hate cooked fruit. can't help it.
but in my pie journey, i dove into a pie that i loved, mom loved, and even boyfriend loved.
coconut cream pie.
with its ooey-gooey creamy filling and that flaky crust and the topping of nutty toasted coconut.
i still love to make it whenever i'm craving a nice good slice of mmm mmm pie.
and as for pie dough: it's not so bad. i leave the butter in some fairly big hunks and let the dough get a pretty good chill. when i bring it out to roll it, i knead it up a bit to make it easier to work with. always works like a charm.

Coconut Cream Pie
pie dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
2-3 T ice cold water

coconut cream filling:
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
2 oz milk
4 oz vanilla sugar*, divided
pinch salt
1 1/4 oz cornstarch
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
8 oz heavy cream, whipped, divided

5 oz sweetened coconut

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt together. Cut the cold butter into pieces and cut into the flour using a fork - which i always use - or a pastry cutter if you wanna get fancy. You want the butter to get to the size of peas - think really fat, plumpy peas.

2. Add in the ice cold water one tablespoon at a time. Chances are, you won't need more than 2 tablespoons. Mix together to form a dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can even make this some days in advance. Freezing also works.

3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, add the coconut milk, milk, 2 oz sugar, and salt until nearly boiling.

4. While the milk is heating up, whisk together the egg, yolk, cornstarch, and remaining 2 oz sugar. When the liquid reaches almost boiling, slowly add it to the egg mixture while constantly whisking. Please do this slowly otherwise you're going to have coconut scrambled egg cream pie. And, sorry, but that's not appetizing.

5. Once all of the liquid is incorporated, add back into the saucepan and whisk until it is nice and thick. This may take a while, or it may take a short bit depending on how high the heat is. Though do remember the high heat is going to scramble the eggs and again, not appetizing.

6. Once thickened, take it off the heat and transfer it to a bowl. To chill it, either dunk the bowl in an ice bath or cover it with plastic wrap (touching the filling) and refrigerate. When it is completely chilled, fold in half of the whipped cream and 4 oz of coconut.

7. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the pie dough to fit a 9-inch pie tin (or an 8-inch if you prefer). Trim the excess and dock the dough to make sure it doesn't rise. Bake for about 8-10 minutes or until a light golden brown. Cool.

8. Take the remaining 1 oz of the coconut and toast up in either a dry pan or the oven. (If you've got the oven going for the dough, might as well make some room for a bit of coconut. But watch it - it can burn fairly quickly).

9. And now we assemble! Spoon your coconut filling into the pie shell. Smooth out and top with the remaining 4 oz of whipped cream. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and my goodness, you've got yourself some darn good pie.

*vanilla sugar: such a fabulous concoction of granulated sugar and used up vanilla beans. it gives such a wonderful vanilla essence. actual vanilla bean and vanilla extracts are perfect substitutes, though. about 1/2 a vanilla bean which can be added with the liquids. or 1 teaspoon of extract which you add at the very end.

Monday, April 28, 2008

i have a blog?

i have a blog!
and boy is this exciting! what the hell am i doing with a blog, you ask. well, it's 2008. and uh, everybody is like, blogging now. duh.
but more importantly: let's say i wanted a place where i could really dive into food and talk about it and share it like i can't elsewhere.
it's the foodie section in my internet endeavors.
i adore food. i adore writing. (and i adore ruth reichl...)
i can only hope you enjoy your stay. and if you don't, well that's ok, too.
really, it's just a blog..
..or is it??!
oh, how i love endings that leave you hanging.

welcome to the (he)art of eating. have a nice day.