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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vintage Gourmet: Sweet and Hot

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the loss of Gourmet Magazine, which shut down in November 2009 and ended my monthly dose of Ruth Reichl.  I love Reichl's writing, particularly her food writing, and it's been too long since her last book.

So when I was griping at dinner about how much I missed Gourmet, David said the fateful words "Why don't you see if there are some issues on ebay?" 

I love ebay.  In fact, I love ebay so much that I bought my wedding dress there three years ago and had a local costume designer take it apart and alter it.  It cost a lot less than any conventional wedding dress and was way prettier.

So as a result of David uttering those fateful words, Gourmet magazine is making a comeback at our house.  It's such a joy to look at them--the photography is great, the now-dated ads are fun and the articles are so well-written.  Not that I'm suggesting you go stalk these magazines on ebay, mind you.  No sirree, because I have a few more I'm looking for and I don't want you to snap them up.

So how about you let me report back via a new feature that I'm calling "Vintage Gourmet"?  The idea is to pull recipes from random back issues of Gourmet, put my own spin on them and post them here.  Welcome to the first installment!

This recipe is a keeper:  inexpensive, equally worthy of a weeknight dinner or a dinner party and less than 45 minutes to make. 

Chicken with Sweet and Hot Peppers
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, March 2003

2 lbs. bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 bell peppers, preferably red and yellow, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife and peeled
1/2 shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 dried peperoncini peppers, crushed
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper

Place the chicken thighs on a paper towel-lined plate and dry thoroughly.  Sprinkle salt on the skin side and put aside.

Warm the olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs skin side down.  Cook for approximately five minutes or until the chicken skin is a lovely golden brown.  Then turn the chicken over with tongs and cook for an additional two minutes.  The chicken will not be cooked through at this time;  this is just to crisp the skin.

Pour all but about a tablespoon of the fat from the skillet and return it to the stove.  Still over medium heat, add the peppers, onion and shallot and cover and cook until the veggies are softened, about ten minutes.  Then add the white wine, peperoncini, garlic and salt and pepper to taste and cook until the wine has reduced, about two minutes.
Nestle the chicken skin side up in the pepper mixture, reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for another fifteen to twenty minutes. 

Start the broiler on high.  Uncover the chicken and place the skillet under the broiler just until the skin is very brown and crispy.
We served with a root vegetable mash and baked leeks.  Once again, remove the chicken skin if you are watching fat, cholesterol and/or calories.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Brigadoon of the Vegetable World

I am obsessed with sunchokes. 

Sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes, whatever they are--and I'm still not totally sure, since the definition in my beloved Larousse Gastronomique that my brother-in-law Philip gave me for Hannukah a couple of years ago is maddeningly vague--I love them.  I want to write haikus to them, or perhaps a symphony in praise of them.

All right, I'm getting carried away.  The fact is that sunchokes are fairly ugly little brown tubers and pretty much unavailable in Alaska.  When I saw them in the list of possibilities for the CSA box that arrived this week, I was at least smart enough to order double of them. 

I can only remember eating these little critters a couple of times, and the last was about four or five years ago.  They're the Brigadoon of vegetables, at least in Alaska (as an aside, extra love to anyone who gets that reference).

They are hellish to peel, which the Larousse does say, and to which the small gash on my left middle finger can attest.  However, they were heavenly to eat.  The flavor is deep and rich and earthy, slightly starchy and reminiscent of really good mushrooms. 

I'm particularly proud of this recipe because I made it up on the fly on a night I didn't expect to be home.  Essentially, it's puréed sunchokes stirred into a basic risotto.  But the flavor?  Anything but basic.  I might have swooned.

Sunchoke Risotto

1/2 pound sunchokes, peeled to the best of your ability and cut in 1/2" cubes
1/4 cup 2% milk
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 1/4 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine, divided
4 cups chicken stock
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
2 peperoncini peppers, crushed
3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan
Truffle or kosher salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Heat a medium-sized pot of water to boil, then add the sunchokes.  Boil for approximately 20 minutes or until fork-tender.  When the sunchokes are cooked, drain them and transfer to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse the sunchokes briefly, then drizzle in the milk and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Pulse again and taste, adding pepper and a little salt.  Then process until the sunchokes are silky in texture, like mashed potatoes without the lumps.

Pour the stock and 1/4 cup of the wine in a small saucepan and warm over low heat;  this will need to stay warm for the entire process.

Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Add two tablespoons of the olive oil and heat until shimmering.  Add the leek and shallot and cook until they are lightly browned, then add the rice.

Stir the rice well for several minutes, until it is coated with oil and gets slightly toasty.  Then add the remaining 3/4 cup of the wine and cook until it is almost incorporated.  Add the peperoncini.

Add the broth/wine mixture in half-cup increments, stirring constantly so the rice doesn't stick.  After two additions of broth, add half the sunchoke mixture and stir well to combine.  Add another two additions of broth, add the remaining sunchokes.  Incorporate another cup of broth and taste;  you want the rice to be al dente and may not need the additional broth.

When the rice is the desired texture, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese, plus salt and pepper to taste.  Truffle salt really complements the sunchoke flavor, if you have it around.

Makes about four main course servings;  would serve six for a side.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stuff It

Do you remember when I said work was pretty calm?  This has not been a great week--without getting too specific, which I can't, suffice it to say that there is someone who is making me a little miserable.

So the title of this post is what I wish I could tell this person, possibly in less polite terms, but can't.  It's also about a much more pleasant topic, the stuffed eggplant that I made on Sunday.

I like eggplant, but it has to be cooked correctly.  I've had some bad deep-fried eggplant experiences, along with some sauteed eggplant experiences that left me wondering why the vegetable had the texture of a foam pillow and approximately the same flavor.

This is not either of those experiences.  This is the eggplant to serve the doubters who say that they don't like eggplant.  It's full of flavor and so many goodies that it will bring those doubters to their knees.

As an aside, I've been loving cooking from the Lidia's Italy in America cookbook (you can find other experiments with that cookbook here, here and here).  I rarely follow the recipe exactly, but I think the recipes are a great framework that can be altered according to taste, season and what you have on hand at the time.  Her savory recipes often contain more olive oil than I think is absolutely necessary, so I usually scale back to keep things healthier.

The original recipe uses small eggplant;  I used one medium eggplant, which would feed four as a side or two as a main course. 

Italian Stuffed Eggplant
Adapted from Lidia's Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich

1 medium eggplant
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. chicken sausage, removed from casings
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup homemade bread crumbs or day-old cubed bread
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, finely grated or an equal amount of Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
4 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the eggplant in half and scoop out the flesh to make a shell.  The shell should be thick enough to hold its shape but thin enough to allow plenty of stuffing to go in it;  1/2 inch is about perfect.  Coarsely chop the removed eggplant flesh.

Warm two tablespoons of the olive in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, then add the chicken sausage and use a large spoon to break it into small chunks.  When the meat starts to brown, add the wine.

Cook until the meat juices and wine are almost gone, then add the bell pepper, chopped eggplant and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.  Cover and cook for about ten minutes, or until the bell pepper and eggplant are very tender.  Once this mixture is cooked, remove from the skillet and set aside.

Combine the milk and bread crumbs in a small bowl and stir to combine.  Then add the bread mixture to the cooled meat mixture, along with the cheese, parsley and sun-dried tomatoes.

Place the eggplant halves snugly in a baking dish and then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt.  Mound the eggplant halves with the stuffing, then cover with foil and cooking for approximately forty minutes, or until the eggplant is very tender.  Uncover the dish, sprinkle with a bit more cheese if desired and bake for another ten minutes uncovered.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Working for the Weekend

Do you ever feel like you need a weekend to recover from your weekend?  Because I sure do.

I don't know when weekends began to feel so jammed, but between four performances of Love, Loss and What I Wore, working for a bit yesterday, holding auditions for the next show I'm directing, cleaning the house and exercising, I lost my weekend.  Where did it go, and could I have it back please?

The only time I managed to slow down was when I got home from the theatre yesterday.  Free time--what's a girl to do?  Why cook, of course.  David was still hunkered in the living room watching the football game and I had the kitchen all to myself--though to give full credit to David, he cranked out homemade linguine noodles when the game was over.

A good smattering of Pecorino Romano on the pasta is a nice finish.

As an aside, does anyone have a good recipe for wasabi aioli?  The Love, Loss cast went out after the show on Saturday to Ginger, a sort of Asian-fusion restaurant around the corner from the theatre.  I don't love all their food, but they have fabulous appetizers.  The pommes frites with wasabi aioli are to die for.

The following recipe is the compromise for what I had originally intended to make.  Lidia Bastianich's recipe contains pistachios rather than walnuts, but the local grocery store was out of pistachios.  Seriously?

Consider this a tease for Wednesday's post;  that
stuffed eggplant in the background is AH-MAZE-ING.

Play with the seasoning on this.  I wanted a little zip and added dried peperoncini, but they're not necessary.  I added a little more garlic to the original recipe because I thought it didn't have enough oomph;  pare back to eight cloves if you're a little more tentative with your garlic.

This recipe makes quite a thick paste;  once you've finished cooking the pasta to go with it--I recommend either linguine or spaghetti--reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce to the desired consistency.

Basil-Toasted Walnut Pesto
Inspired by a Recipe from Lidia's Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich

3 cups basil leaves
1 cup Italian parsley sprigs
1 cup walnuts, toasted
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 small peperoncini
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Pasta cooking water

All all ingredients except for the olive oil and cooking water to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse the mixture until it is a very thick paste, then drizzle the olive oil in tablespoonful by tablespoonful.  As noted above, this will make quite a thick paste that you will need to thin with either pasta cooking water or even chicken stock.

Isn't that green just gorgeous?
This makes lots of pesto, enough for about two pounds of pasta.  The leftover pesto can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grounded for Life

Have you ever had to perform reconstructive surgery on a cake?  Or, in a related question, grounded a dish from ever leaving the house?

You can already tell that this is not a baking success story.

This month's Cake Slice challenge was easy enough, or so it seemed:  a vanilla genoise cake generously daubed with a coffee syrup and filled and iced with a tiramisu filling of marscapone, eggs and rum.  Sounds good, right?  I'm sure someone's was good, but mine was not.

And to top it all off, my camera was being weird last night.

The problem is that it wasn't even an interesting disaster.  As they say in theatre, if you're going to flub a line, flub it with style.  Make it look purposeful.  Or, at the very least, create a trainwreck of such epic proportions that people can't help but stop and stare.  As an aside, my friend Jill told me that I had to look at the website Cake Wrecks--if you haven't seen it, go look (after you finish reading this post, of course) and gawk at the sheer awfulness.

This cake was none of those things.  It started promisingly enough;  the egg concoction that went into the cake was beautiful and fluffy--I have the photos to prove it!--and then once the butter and the flour mixture were incorporated, the batter just sank before my eyes.  Just to complete the experiment, I baked the cake layers up.  They looked like the sad cousin of a dutch-baby pancake, but less tasty.  The layers were rubbery, flat and just sad.

And then, just because I don't know when to quit, I filled and frosted the sad little non-layers.  It looked passable if a little flat until you sliced into it.  With those rubbery little pancakes, it was inedible.

The marscapone filling/frosting was too good to go to waste, though, so of course I had to operate.  I made a beautiful pound cake (recipe on that this weekend), which proved that I did not have the baking equivalent of a black thumb. 

I then sliced the pound cake, duly swabbed the slices with the coffee syrup, and then scraped all the marscapone off the little pancakes and reconstructed the creation with the pound cake. 

The result?  Eh, it was fine.  I think I had pretty much given up on the dessert by this point, and the pound cake wasn't a great match for the marscapone, which was a little surprising. 

David then made a point of throwing his partially-eaten slice away and taking lots of pictures of it in the trash for me to post.  Thanks, honey.

I'm not posting the recipe for the cake because I think the recipe works, at least for some, but certainly not for me.  Next time I want tiramisu, I will use the tried and true ladyfinger method. 

Throw me a bone, here--what is your worst baking disaster?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside

It is cold here.  Like, zero is the day's high temperature kind of cold.  The car protests when left outside at work, even David occasionally thinks it's too cold to go ski and everyone's skin seems perpetually chapped.

Then I talked to an opposing attorney in Fairbanks yesterday, and he informed me that it was 35 below.  In the middle of the day.  Talk about perspective.

Although I'm continuing to eat (mostly) healthy, I am really craving warm, hearty comfort food at night.  Not in huge portions, and not made with a stick of butter, but comfort food nevertheless.

When we made the Tuscan Chicken on Sunday night, I made a big pot of rosemary-scented polenta to go with it.  We've been continuing to eat the polenta with the leftover roast chicken, but last night I really wanted a little red meat, preferably in a red wine sauce, to go over the polenta.  I made kebabs of sirloin and braised pearl onions that were ridiculously good, and went together so fast that it didn't even occur to me to take more pictures.

The pearl onions can be either fresh or jarred.  When I went to the store last night, the fresh pearl onions were looking a little sad.  I think the same four bags had been sitting there for a while, so I went with the jarred.  If you use the jarred, I recommend rinsing and drying them before browning. 

Beef and Braised Onion Kebabs with Red Wine Jus
Inspired by a Recipe from

30 small pearl onions, jarred
1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tbsp. fresh-ground black pepper
1.5 tsp. rosemary, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 lb. sirloin steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup dry red wine

Rinse the pearl onions in a colander.  In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions.  Cook for about three minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown lightly.  Add the salt and pepper, cover the onions with water and turn the heat to low.  Cook for another 15 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, toss the beef cubes with the olive oil, rosemary and garlic and set aside to marinate. 

When the onions are cooked, remove them from the heat and separate the onions from the cooking liquid.  Reserve the liquid in the skillet and allow the onions to cool.

When the onions are cooled, string the beef cubes and onions on either metal skewers or soaked bamboo skewers.  The recipe is enough to make about six kebabs.

Preheat the broiler to high and place the skewers on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. 

Return the onion cooking liquid to the stove.  On medium heat, add the residual marinade from the beef and the cup of wine.  Heat to a simmer.

Broil the kebabs for two to four minutes;  they do not need to be turned.  Three minutes resulted in a nice medium-rare kebab.

Serves two;  serve with polenta and drizzle with the wine sauce.

Rosemary-scented Polenta
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, January 2009

6 cups water
1.5 cups polenta
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 cup cheese, finely shredded*
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
Fresh-ground pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the polenta, water, rosemary and salt to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture uncovered for approximately twenty minutes.  Stir frequently with a long-handled spoon, because it will want to stick to the bottom of the pot.

Remove the pan from the when the polenta is tender but not mushy and all the water has been absorbed.  Stir in the butter and cheese and add fresh-ground pepper to taste.  Makes enough polenta for four to six people, or enough for two with lots of leftovers.

*Be creative with the cheese, although I'd recommend using a harder cheese.  I used an aged cow's-milk cheese from New Jersey called Pawlet that my brother-in-law sent us, but a good Parmesan or Pecorino would work too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This weekend was chock-full of the good, the bad and the ugly.

First, the good:  Love, Loss and What I Wore opened on Friday to a full house and was a benefit for our local chapter of the YWCA.  We were sold out again on Saturday and while we had a smaller house yesterday, the audiences have just eaten up the show. 

The bad:  stage fright.  I haven't acted in so long that I've forgotten what it was all about.  It didn't show in my performance, fortunately, but I was petrified going out there on opening night.  It really helped that my fellow actors were so amazing that I warmed up before too long.

The ugly:  the tiramisu cake I made yesterday for this month's Cake Slice pick.  You'll see what I mean on Friday. 

And a second entry for "the good":  last night's dinner.  How many of you were readers of the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine?  My guess is most of you.  It kills me that when I sold my house in 2008 to move in with my now-husband, I recycled almost a hundred issues of Gourmet because I didn't want to move them.  I figured that there were plenty more issues to come, right?  A year later Gourmet stopped publication. 

I have a handful, maybe ten, of random issues that survived the Great Recycling Binge of 2008, and I treasure them.  This recipe is a reminder of what made Gourmet so great.  I'll post the polenta recipe tomorrow.

Tuscan Chicken with Olives and Pancetta
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, January 2009

Large chicken, backbone cut out and cut into 10 pieces*
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tbsp. rosemary, chopped
1.5 tbsp. thyme, chopped
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
4 peperoncini, crushed
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 slices pancetta, diced (optional)
1 cup dry white wine (I used Vermentino;  any white will work as long as it's bone dry)
1/2 cup of good-quality pitted olives (I used a mix of black and green)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and position a rack in the middle.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper flakes, ensuring that the chicken is coated with the oil and spices.  Lay the chicken pieces skin-side up in a rimmed pan--we used our large paella pan and it worked perfectly.

Scatter the garlic over the chicken pieces, along with the pancetta.  Roast until the chicken skin browns, about 25 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle the wine over the chicken, along with scooping up pan juices and pouring them over the chicken so it remains moist.  Bake for another 8 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven again and add the olives.

Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the chicken is golden and cooked through.  Remove from the oven and tent with foil.  Allow to sit for another 10 minutes or so before serving to let the flavors intensify.

If you are watching what you eat at this time of year, remove the skin from the chicken before eating.  The flavor is still fantastic, and the fat is significantly reduced.

Suggested Wine Pairing:  Italian wine, naturally.  I used a lovely crisp Vermentino to cook the chicken, and it was a great match for the final dish.  If you prefer reds, a fruit-forward red such as Negroamaro or even a good-quality Chianti would be a good match.

*The way we cut it, there are ten pieces:  two wings, two drumsticks, two thighs and each breast is cut in half.  The original recipe recommended cutting the chicken breasts into three pieces each, but I think that's overkill.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

(Not Quite) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

I hope the old adage about bad dress rehearsals making for good openings is right.  Eesh.  The problem with rehearsing a show, even a reading, in pieces is that it tends to fall apart a bit when you put it back together again.  Such was the case with Love, Loss and What I Wore last night.  It probably doesn't help that Tuesday's rehearsal was cancelled due to an incipient snowstorm, which finally arrived yesterday.

There is a phrase we all utter when things don't look the best right before opening:  "Magic of theatre."  It's kind of a talisman, an indication that it can all turn around when it really needs to do so.

Considering the talent of my fellow actors and our director, it will come together.  I actually believe it will be a lovely, very funny show. 

However, the craziness of this week has left me craving a bit of sugar rather than my usual salads.  Has that happened to anyone else in the last couple of weeks?  I think the solution is to have a slice of cake and then get back to the healthy routine.  If that's your solution, too, let me introduce you to the butter rum cake:

It's every bit as delicious as it looks, and maybe more so.  It has the virtue of being easy to make as well.  I say have a slice of cake, then remove the cake to your office/book group/whatever to share the wealth and calories.

I have no control over whether the "magic of theatre" will grace our show tonight, other than making sure I'm fully prepared.  But this cake?  Well, it is a little magical.

Ciambellone al Rum (Italian Butter Rum Cake)
Adapted from Lidia's Italy in America by Lidia Bastianich

For the cake:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 sliced almonds, ground in mini-prep processor
1/4 sliced almonds, toasted
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
Zest of one large orange
1/3 cup 2% milk

For the glaze:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup light rum
Juice from the orange zested for the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a bundt cake pan, or spray it with nonstick spray with flour.  Sprinkle the toasted almonds evenly around the pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.

Using a stand mixer, cream the butter with the sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale yellow and fluffy.  Alternate adding the yolks and the eggs, adding one egg and then two yolks until all the eggs are incorporated.  Beat the mixture on high speed for a minute after all the eggs have been added, just to make sure it is fully blended.

Turn the mixer to low speed and add half the flour mixture, and then the milk.  Mix to combine and then add the remaining flour mixture and the orange zest until it is just blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Tap the pan once lightly on the counter to reduce the number of air holes and then bake until a skewer or knife inserted into the cake comes out clean, about an hour.  Cool the cake completely on a baking rack and run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake before inverting it onto a plate or serving tray.

While the cake is cooling, make the glaze.  Put all the ingredients for the syrup, plus two cups of water, into a medium saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook down until it becomes a thin syrup.

The cake should be glazed while still warm.  Using a pastry brush, brush the syrup all over the cake, repeating until all the glaze is absorbed. 

I'm warning you:  this takes a little while.  Tedious but totally worth it.

Serves twelve to sixteen, depending on how bad your sugar cravings are.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Extreme Grilling, Alaska Style

Between the last week of rehearsals for Love, Loss and What I Wore and traveling to Seattle for a deposition, it's been a busy last five days.  It's also been a very snowy last week, as snow storms have been buffeting Alaska.  Everything looks very white and clean, but Seattle's fifty degrees yesterday felt heavenly.  However, I made the mistake of wearing the same knee-length dress I'd worn for the deposition on the flight home.  I emerged into zero-degree weather and immediately regretted that choice.

David and I have a very basic Weber grill that sits out on our back porch.  It's not a very advanced grill and we're not very advanced grillers.  It might have occurred to us to pull it into our garage and have some sort of shelter over it when winter hit, but what can I say?  It didn't.  The result is that the snow is as high as the grill, and that's without the additional snow on Saturday night:

Before I headed out of town, I made another run at steak with a porcini mushroom slather.  I tried a wet rub last October containing the porcini mushroom powder I bought on a whim from the local spice store;  it mostly didn't work.  This time around I tried a dry rub and the result was a kick-ass steak.

Since it was just for David and I, I used a one-pound ribeye on the bone that we sliced and shared.  For more than two, you might want to consider boned, smaller ribeye steaks.

Porcini-Crusted Ribeye Steak
Inspired by Flavors from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton

1 lb. bone-in ribeye steak
3 tb. porcini powder
1 tb. granulated sugar
2 peperoncini peppers
1/4 tsp. truffle or kosher salt
Pinch fresh-ground pepper and salt
Good-quality extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for garnish

You can buy porcini powder ready-made;  here is one source.  Otherwise, grind dried porcini mushrooms to a fine powder in a mortar and pestle or a mini-prep food processor.

Combine the porcini powder, sugar and salt in a small bowl.  Crush the peperoncini peppers into fine bits and add them to the mixture;  stir to combine.

Completely coat the ribeye in porcini powder and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the steak for at least half an hour.

When the grill is started, pull the steak out of the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.  Pat any remaining porcini mixture onto it.

Season with a bit of additional salt and pepper just before the steak goes on the grill.  Cook for approximately eight minutes on each side, or until a meat thermometer reaches 125 degrees.  This will make for a rare steak;  cook longer for the desired degree of doneness.

Drizzle the plate with good-quality olive oil and then splash the steak with good balsamic vinegar.

I served this with roasted, cubed potatoes and roasted zucchini.  Delicious with an earthy red wine such as an Oregon pinot noir or a Chataneuf-du-Pape.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Love, Loss and What I Ate

I've been scaring people at the gym a little this week.

I agreed to be part of a reading called Love, Loss and What I Wore, which is a collection of scenes and monologues about women and their clothes.  It sounds fluffy--and it kind of is--but there is some truth to the idea of that we are what we wear (as well as what we eat).

But back to scaring people at the gym--I have been running lines while on the elliptical machine.  Mind you, I'm not saying them out loud, but I'm reading and thinking through them, and gesture a little like I plan to do in the show.
I don't act much anymore, since I keep getting offers to direct shows.  There are two problems with getting back onstage after spending a couple of years sitting in the audience giving others direction.  First, acting is terrifying when you haven't done it for a while.  It is no easier when you're onstage with actors you admire who are capable of making anything funny.  The other four women in this show are a formidable, talented bunch.

This also means I'm not home to cook every night, which I was kind of getting used to before I agreed to do the show.  Monday night was my last night off before I plunged into a week of rehearsals, as well as being the last evening of a three-day weekend, so I wanted to make something special.

And, make no mistake, this pasta is special.  Slightly spicy, full of wilted dark leafy greens and thickened with toasted bread crumbs, the sauce is a winner.  David made homemade linguine to eat with it, but good-quality dried pasta will work just as well.

Pasta with Sausage and Kale
Adapted from The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton

1 small bunch Lacinato kale
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2/3 cup water
3/4 lb. Italian chicken sausage, removed from its casings and coarsely chopped
2 small peperoncini peppers, crushed
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
12 oz. fresh or dried pasta
1 tbsp. good-quality extra-virgin olive oil to finish the sauce
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tbsp. bread crumbs, toasted
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Wash and dry the kale.  Cut the leaves away from the stems and chop the stems into 1/2 inch pieces. 

In a large, deep skillet, heat the quarter cup of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the kale stems and cook for two to three minutes, or until they are softened.  Add the onion and garlic and sprinkle with a small amount of salt.  Then add the water and cook this mixture until the vegetables are thoroughly tender but not mushy, about ten minutes.  You will need to stir this mixture as it gets to the end of the cooking time to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Add the kale leaves and cook for an additional one to two minutes, stirring them into the stem mixture.  Then reduce the heat to low and cook this mixture for another fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.  The mixture is done when it is very soft and thoroughly wilted.

Empty the skillet onto a cutting board and allow the vegetables to cool.  Start the pasta water at this time;  if you are using dried pasta, cook to al dente;  if you are using fresh pasta, it will only take a minute or to to cook.

Using the same skillet, heat it over high heat, add the tablespoon of olive oil and then add the sausage.  Allow it to cook without being stirred for about two minutes, or until the sausage is thoroughly browned.  Then stir the sausage, breaking it apart into even smaller chunks, reduce the heat to medium and cook for another four minutes.

I added a bit more onion to the sausage, but this isn't necessary.

While the sausage is cooking, chop the kale mixture very finely.  You will use most of it in the pasta, but we served the leftover vegetables on the side--they taste like a steakhouse creamed spinach dish, but way healthier.

Add 3/4 cup of the kale mixture to the sausage and stir to combine.  Add the peppers and cook for another two to three minutes, then add the stock and reduce the heat to a simmer.  You will need to stir often to prevent the sauce from sticking.

Add the tablespoon of butter, sprinkle in the cheese and stir to combine these ingredients with the sauce.  Add the bread crumbs and stir again--you should have a lightly thickened sauce.

Toss with the pasta to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves four.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Southern Comfort

It's really excellent when you can begin a new year by not working for a couple of days, although it is a rude shock to come back to the office.  Today I've been writing a brief for a big mediation later in the week, answering e-mails and generally re-acclimating myself.  It was a lovely three-day weekend, but now it's time to pay the proverbial piper. 

I rarely talk about work here because 1) much of what I do is confidential and 2) I work in a very low-drama office considering that we're a group of litigators.  I work with nice people who do their work ethically and generally try to rebut what most people think of lawyers.

But anyway...the three-day weekend meant lots of cooking, including one of my favorite New Year's traditions, Hoppin' John.  I'll give a shout-out to Ramona over at Curry and Comfort, because she's the only other blogger I saw posting about this traditional Southern dish--hers is a fantastic-looking version flavored with and colored by curry.  It looks absolutely delicious, and it's a great take on the original dish.

Black-eyed peas are eaten on New Year's Day for good luck, and this dish marries them with long-grain white rice in a way that mimics the traditional Monday dish of New Orleans, red beans and rice.  Although the black-eyed peas are typically cooked with a ham hock, I have substituted a spicy chicken sausage that keeps the dish pork-free while still being in the same spirit as the original.

New Year's Day Hoppin' John
Inspired by a Recipe from

1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 orange bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken link sausage, casing removed and coarsely chopped
2 peperoncini peppers, crushed
1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas, washed and picked over
1 cup long-grain white rice or jasmine rice
3 cups water
3 cups chicken broth
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, combine the water, stock, bay leaves and black-eyed peas.  If any peas float to the top, discard them.  Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat so the peas simmer.

After the peas are on, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  When it is hot, add the olive oil and allow it to warm before adding the chicken sausage and onion.  Fry the onion and chicken sausage until they are lightly browned.  Add the onion-sausage combination to the pot with the black-eyed peas.

Using the same skillet, lightly brown the bell peppers.  When they are soft, add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add the contents of this skillet to the pot with the black-eyed peas.

At the half-hour mark, taste the peas for seasoning and add salt and black pepper as needed.  Crush two small peperoncini and add them to the pot.

When the peas are fully cooked and tender, which should be about an hour, add the rice to the pot.  Cover the pot and cook for an additional twenty minutes or until the rice is fully cooked, adding a bit of additional broth if more liquid is needed.

Once the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and allow to sit for another ten minutes.  Just before serving, fluff the mixture with a fork.

Serves 6.  We served it with a green salad and popovers--the popovers weren't a perfect match, but David was craving them since we didn't have them at Chrismukkah.