Arancini Mac & Cheese

arancini macaroni and cheese

On many Sundays during the summer we find ourselves at 2Amys, tired and famished after a long morning at the zoo, trying to keep our two thrashing children from making too much of a disturbance. An order of arancini — deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with cheese — usually does the trick, settling the children (and us) at first bite.

I LOVE arancini, but they’re a total pain to make, not only calling for leftover risotto, but also requiring a lengthy assembly process — shaping, stuffing, breading and deep frying. Crispy on the outside, oozing with cheese on the inside, these “little oranges” are worth their every effort — once I made them at home — but they are not something to whip up every day, better ordered out a place like 2Amys, best (not that I speak from experience) picked up at a vendor parked along a Palermo sidewalk. Continue reading

Homemade Breadcrumbs & Infinite Ways to Use Them

pasta with toasted bread crumbs, anchovies, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and basil

Homemade breadcrumbs slipped into our dinner regimen slowly, appearing on our salads to start, the kale caesars in particular, quietly replacing croutons altogether. But shortly after their introduction, perhaps encouraged by their warm reception, they made haste, and soon began garnishing our pastas, mingling with our roasted vegetables, delicately topping our fish fillets. These days they’ve gotten completely brazen, sometimes accompanying every item on the plate. I don’t know when this trend will fizzle, but I’m liking it very much at the moment.

The inspiration to start whizzing my stale bread in the food processor, storing the crumbs in the freezer, and toasting them in a skillet with olive oil at the dinner hour, came from two sources: a great chef interview on the kitchn in early November and the editor’s letter in this month’s bon appètit, which offered tips on how to be a better cook from seven renowned chefs around the world including Mario Batali who admits that “there’s almost nothing [he] wouldn’t put homemade breadcrumbs on.” I’m starting to share this sentiment. These crunchy, salted, olive-oil toasted bits are truly addictive. Continue reading

An Oldie but a Goodie: Honey-Baked Chicken Legs

bakedchickenlegs

During my recent trip home to CT, my mother taught me how to make her homemade hamburger helper, a favorite of mine and my siblings growing up, a meal we thought the toddlers in the house would enjoy as well. While the children ate it without complaint, each favoring a different component — macaroni, hamburger, melted cheese — it was the adults who really went to town on it, in particular my brother and brother-in-law who polished off the leftovers after a late-night game of darts (and a few too many whiskeys).

I don’t know if it’s the need to feed the toddlers I suddenly find at my feet or the trip home or the winter weather, but recently I can’t get enough of these old family recipes. My mother learned this one from her aunt Rene, who has been serving it at dinner parties since the 1960′s. It is truly a crowd pleaser.

Now, a note, likely an obvious one: For those of you who like savoring the flavor of chicken in its most unadulterated form, perhaps roasted with a few herbs and maybe a lemon wedge or two, this one is not for you. It’s all about the sauce, a mixture of honey and mustard, curry powder and mango chutney, that thickens and concentrates during the hour or so spent in the oven. It’s the kind of thing that is nearly impossible not to pick up off the plate with your hands, gnaw at the bone, lick your fingers when you’re finished. Sorry for the image.

All of that said, the chicken cooks perfectly — the tender, moist meat, which retains its heat so nicely, falls off the bone with every prod of the fork, making a more civilized approach to its ingestion certainly an option.

My Great Aunt Rene would be so proud — my children gobbled it up, and for the first time in a long time, not a word about ketchup was uttered. Continue reading

Detox: Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Nuoc Cham

tofu bite

When my paleo friends arrived at my doorstep carrying a Dean and Deluca bag, I suspected my fears about my non-paleo olives were for naught. And when they were as eager to open the bag as Ben and I, my suspicions were confirmed. With it still being pre-2013, we all had one last hurrah with the spoils, snacking on Vahlrona chocolate brownies and an assortment of cookies the size of frisbees for a good day and a half.

It was awesome, but when New Year’s Day arrived, I, as many of you can relate I am sure, was ready to detox. I made a grocery list. Wrote out some resolutions. Ate tofu. Watched Happy. Cried a lot. Wrote out a few more resolutions. Went to sleep, for the first time in a long time not feeling stuffed, early. And woke up, for the first time in a long time, feeling like a million bucks.

About this time of year every year, I go on a little tofu binge. I know, I know. I can hear you barking. There are lots of ways — moderation, namely — to eat healthy without taking extreme measures. But, and I’m not just saying this, I have two tofu recipes in my repertoire, one of which I’ve already shared with you and could genuinely eat nearly every day, both of which I would serve to company without apology. Continue reading

Favorite Sunday Dinner: Braised Chicken with Sherry & Sherry Vinegar

Braised Chicken with Sherry & Sherry Vinegar

I never imagined an eighth of a cow taking so long to polish off. Seven months after packing our freezer with meat, we have finally made a considerable dent, two pounds of ground beef, one liver, and a few soup bones being all that remain. We have eaten more burgers and tacos than we ever thought possible, and while it has been wonderful having such amazing beef on hand, Ben and I are thinking about our next move.

The thing is is that I miss chicken. I have been spoiled by modern living, by endless variety, by not having to have to buy meat by the quarter animal. This time of year I crave my mother’s chicken kapama (Greek red chicken) and these chicken legs baked with white wine and parmesan and the braised chicken pictured here, chicken au vinaigre, another favorite from Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook.

Subscribing to one of those meat shares that offer lamb, pork, chicken, goat and various other meats would be the ideal. But alas, you can’t always get what you want, and I would again be willing to sacrifice variety for grass-fed, local, incredibly delicious beef. It’s hardly a tradeoff, really.

Now, back to the chicken. This dish, a classic French preparation, is all about the sauce, a rich concentration of shallots, crushed tomatoes, mustard and reduced sherry and sherry vinegar. As with my mother’s chicken kapama, I love serving it with egg noodles, which soak up the delicious sauce so nicely, but a natural (perhaps even more delicious) alternative to the noodles is a hunk of bread. That time of year has certainly arrived, when cleaning dinner plates with crusty bread is more than acceptable. Continue reading

Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzarella & Basil

pizza with lemon, smoked mozzarella & basil

As much as I love lemons, the thought of placing them atop pizza never would have crossed my mind. Squeezing a wedge of lemon over a slice of white clam pizza — that’s natural; biting into whole slices of lemon, rind and seeds included — that takes some convincing.

But the story and photo of Kesté’s Pizza Sorrentina, a Neapolitan pizza topped with lemon slices, basil and smoked mozzarella, in the WSJ a few weekends ago sent me racing off to the store to find smoked mozzarella. Story goes that this pie was invented in Naples by a great pizza maestro’s daughter who created it for her lemon-adoring mother.

Never would I have imagined this group of ingredients to work so well together, but they do. And it makes sense. Lemon cuts the smokiness of the mozzarella; basil, even after seven minutes in the oven, adds a touch of freshness. The bites with lemon slices are big — tart and tangy and refreshing all at the same time; the bites without beg for one. But the beauty of the pizza lies in the balance: it would be a shame to overdo the lemon, to be flinging pieces aside rather than longing for more.

For lemon lovers, of course, this pie is a winner; but skeptics beware: it’s beguiling enough to win you over, too. Continue reading

Super Fast Pasta Dish: Rotini with Butternut-Sage Sauce

pasta with butternut squash sauce

Every so often all of my recipe hoarding proves worthwhile. A couple of nights ago, while fishing through my pasta file, pulling out every gnocchi recipe I have saved over the past decade, I found a recipe — penne with butternut-sage sauce — from a November 2006 Gourmet. Over the past six years, I have thought about this recipe often, as I do most of the recipes I tuck away, but especially this time of year when the butternut squashes and bundles of sage start arriving in my CSA.

I suspected this sauce would be good — the pairing of squash and sage rarely disappoints — but I didn’t imagine loving it as much as I did. It seemed too simple. But somehow the sauce, made with only butter, sage, squash, onion and water, tastes almost cheesy or as if it were made with cream or stock or something to provide richness. The butter, of course, adds considerable flavor, and the amount of butter, though I haven’t tested it, probably could be scaled back. But if you’re not afraid, just go for it. Adults and children (who likely will think it’s mac n’ cheese) alike will gobble it up. It’s a perfect dish for this time of year. Continue reading

Dinner in 30 minutes: Whole Grilled Trout, Steamed Green Beans, Brown Butter Orzo “Risotto”

trout meat

All I want when I’m old and gray is to live steps from a bakery like Tartine, a short drive from some good ethnic food, and a bike ride, perhaps, from a good fish market. Presently, I’m striking out on all three fronts.

A nice fish market, in particular, would be a most welcome addition to my current neighborhood. Discovering this past summer that places like Dockside actually exist, made me want to pack up and skip town permanently. It’s just that when fish is that fresh — literally caught off the dock — it needs so little attention to get from the fridge to the dinner table. And when fish that fresh is grilled whole, and the skin crisps, and the meat flakes off the tiny delicate skeleton, tasting not a bit dry or fishy just fresh and delicious, never am I happier.

A recent discovery — that Wegman’s sells whole rainbow trout — will likely keep me put for the time being. Farmed rainbow trout, because it is raised in an ecologically responsible way, makes it a Seafood Watch “best choice”. What’s more, whole rainbow trout is affordable. At $6.49/lb, two whole trout, which will feed three comfortably, cost $11.49. Fresh, sustainable, affordable, delectable? I know, incredible.

Grilling fish whole is a new thing for me, and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it, especially if who have anxiety about cooking fish — I certainly do. You’ll have to, of course, get over the presence of beady eyes and a mouth lined with mini razor sharp teeth, and you should try hard to do so because grilling fish whole is incredibly forgiving — the skin protects it from drying out even in the thinnest spots.

This meal has become a recent favorite. Continue reading

The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? Continue reading

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines, sort of

piadines topped with kale caesar and grilled chicken

On May 25th, I pressed the “on” button on my food processor. I haven’t turned it off since. It’s just been going going going, churning out bowlfuls of the kitchn’s magical one-ingredient ice cream, batches of Bittman’s one-minute mayonnaise, and mason jars full of Darcy’s pesto.

The latest addition to the food processor’s regimen is caesar dressing, made in the same fashion as the Bittman mayonnaise, through the teeny hole of the food pusher insert. It works like a charm, and I’ve discovered that if I give the processor bowl a quick little rinsey rinse immediately after I’m finished using it, it’s as if I never dirtied it. Umpteen parts? No big deal. Back onto its base it goes; onto the next job it moves.

Anyway, I’m planning a dinner party and thought it might be fun to make little flatbreads — “piadines” I saw them called in a Michael Chiarello cookbook — piled high with caesar salad — boring, I know, but perhaps made interesting by kale — tossed with sliced grilled chicken breasts — boring, I know, but safe. I love this kind of thing, when bread and vegetable and meat are all wrapped up in one casual, fun, summery, light dish.

As you can see, I gave this idea a little test run, and while I still think it has potential, my piadines need a little bit of work. They puffed way up in the oven, almost like pita bread, making them better suited for falafel or chicken souvlaki. I’m looking for something thin thin, as my grandmother would say, and not too crisp but a little less imposing than what I made here. Despite the shape of the bread, however, the combo was delicious, and fortunately, I still have some time to experiment. In the meantime I might just run a few more things by you.

One last thing. If you’re looking for a rustic, summery dessert for one of your own get togethers, here’s something that might interest you: Stone Fruit Galettes with Homemade Frangipane. Make one dough (in the food processor), a batch of frangipane (also in the food processor), and assemble three tarts each perhaps with a different stone fruit. Plum is my favorite this year. Get the recipe over at Lifestyle Mirror:

stone fruit; peach galette

piadine topped with kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Lahey no-knead pizza dough, risen

piadine dough balls

piadines ready for the oven

piadines in the oven

just-baked piadines

deflated piadines

uncooked chicken breasts seasoned with basil, salt and pepper

grilled chicken breasts

grilled chicken breasts

sliced grilled chicken breast

kale

kale caesar with grilled chicken

kale caesar salad with grilled chicken

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Piadines:
Serves: As many as you like

Notes: As I mentioned above, my piadines are not quite there. They were delicious, just not flat. I used the Lahey No Knead Pizza Dough, which I adore, and which I think might work if I handle the dough a little more aggressively — next time I might even use a rolling pin to remove as many air pockets as possible.

What’s great about something like this for a party is that nearly everything can be prepared ahead of time: kale washed, cheese grated, dressing made, chicken grilled (though it is nice when the chicken is freshly grilled). And with everything prepped, the salad can be assembled in seconds while the flatbreads are baking.

components:

Jim Lahey No Knead Pizza dough or your favorite pizza/flatbread/piadine dough portioned into 3-oz balls
kale, washed and torn into salad-sized pieces
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
caesar dressing (recipe below)
grilled chicken breasts (recipe for two below), sliced

to assemble:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Stretch or roll dough balls into 5-inch rounds. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly golden.

2. Meanwhile, place kale in a salad bowl with grated parmigiano and sliced grilled chicken breast. Toss with dressing to taste. Taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

3. Remove flatbreads from oven. Place one on each plate. Pile high with salad.

Food Processor Caesar Dressing:
Yield = 1.25 cups

3 cloves garlic
3 anchovies
pinch kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

*Lemon juice is obviously more traditional, but white balsamic has a nice flavor, and using vinegar is also easier than juicing lemons… forgive my laziness.

1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the anchovies, garlic and salt until finely puréed. Add the yolk and quarter cup of white balsamic. Pulse until blended. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. (Your food processor should have a teeny hole in the food pusher insert in the top). When an emulsion forms you can add it a little faster. (Again, the little hole makes this unnecessary.)

Grilled Chicken Breasts
Yield = 2 breasts; serves 4 when sliced for a salad

2 chicken breasts
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh herb of choice — I like basil
olive oil

1. Preheat the grill to high. Season chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper. Toss with the fresh herb. Rub lightly with oil. Grill for 2 to 2.5 minutes a side if breasts are smallish. Let rest for five minutes before slicing.