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Archive for the ‘Mains’ Category

It is somewhat ironic that today I am posting a vegetarian recipe, since I started working for a meat and poultry vendor at the farmers’ market last weekend.  How’s that for timing?

Answer: pretty bad.  But I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals one or two nights a week, and when I do cook with meat, I want it to be fresh, flavorful and ethically raised.  Hence, why I’m working for EcoFriendly Foods a few weekends a month; all of their animals are raised humanely on small family farms in the Shenandoah Valley.

When it comes to meatless meals, though, I need a dish that can compete — something that doesn’t make me feel like, “Ugh, it’s vegetarian night again” and wish I were grilling sausages instead.  That’s where this pasta comes in.

It’s another Lidia Bastianich recipe, which in her book is paired with a type of homemade pasta called strangozzi.  I did not have time to make fresh pasta, so I just used pappardelle — a somewhat random choice, but it’s what I had on hand, and it worked.

The almond sauce is basically a pesto — basil, a little mint, some garlic, toasted almonds and olive oil.  You whir it together in a food processor and add it to the cooked pasta with some Swiss chard you’ve sauteed in olive oil with garlic and pepperocino.

Now, I’m pretty fussy about mint.  For me, it can go either way.  But in this dish it totally works.  You can barely taste it — basil is still the predominate flavor — but it adds a bright, fresh element to the sauce.  And the toasted almonds add a richness that stamps out any notion this meal is some sort of sacrifice.  In fact, there are times I crave the light, fresh taste of this dish more than anything else. (more…)

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There’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I have a massive crush on Lidia Bastianich.

Yes, she is 63 years old. Yes, her show on PBS lacks the glossy finesse of shows on the Food Network. And no, she isn’t afraid of cheese or butter. But I love her approach to cooking, and her latest cookbook is full of so many easy, approachable recipes that I’ve barely touched another cookbook since I bought it.

The opening to each chapter of the book reads like a memoir with a dash of cultural history.  This pasta recipe, for example, comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy, and we learn at the beginning of the chapter that it was here that Lidia met the so-called “madman of cheese,” who makes the best pecorino and ricotta she’s ever eaten.  Her voice is so conversational and passionate that I eat up her narrative just as fast as I eat up her food.

Not all of the recipes are simple.  There’s the Ligurian “Cima” (veal breast stuffed with eggs and vegetables) and all sorts of homemade pastas.  But then there are recipes like this one — Farro Pasta with Arugula and Ricotta — that take minimal effort and yield delicious results.

The key to this dish — and many of the recipes in her book — is using top-notch ingredients: fresh ricotta, good olive oil and tender arugula, the latter of which seems to be all over the farmers’ market these days.  Another important ingredient is the farro pasta, a favorite in the Abruzzo region, which you can find at some Whole Foods markets and online (I used whole-grain VitaSpelt spaghetti, which is similar to farro pasta).

The dish is so simple — it requires almost no cooking — and yet the results are wonderful.  The nutty farro, creamy ricotta, peppery arugula, and salty pecorino come together in what ends up being a filling and nutritious country-style meal.  I bet if you make this, you’ll end up having a crush on Lidia too.

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I was, by all accounts, a precocious child. Once, when I was about seven or eight years old, a woman my mother knew ran into the two of us at a local restaurant. I had ordered a creme brulée for dessert and the waitress had just brought it to our table when the woman approached to say hello.

“Well hello! Isn’t this nice, two ladies having lunch!” She winked. “And what are you having, little lady? Oooh, some yummy vanilla pudding! How nice!”

I looked up at her, annoyed that she’d interrupted my consumption of this delicious dessert, my spoon hovering impatiently over the shattered surface. “It’s called creme brulée,” I informed her. “It’s a French vanilla custard with a burnt sugar crust.”

“Well!” She paused. “Isn’t she something!” Oh, I was something alright. Exactly what…well, I’ll leave that to my mother to say.

But just because I was correcting my elders’ culinary lexicon at eight doesn’t mean I was a food snob. Far from it. I liked my McDonald’s and Roy Rogers as much as the next second grader — possibly more, since I was willing to try almost anything on the menu.

For a long time, I was partial to chicken nuggets. For me, it wasn’t so much the chicken (or McDonald’s case, “chicken”); it was the intoxicating honey/chicken nugget duo. See, when it comes to choosing a nugget dipping sauce, some folks fall into the BBQ sauce camp, others prefer sweet and sour sauce, but me, I always went for the honey.

I loved dipping the crunchy chicken into the gooey, sticky honey, and most of all I loved eating something savory with something sweet. Admittedly, I always preferred Roy Rogers nuggets. For starters, the chicken tasted more like real chicken (as opposed to the gristly, multi-colored stuff I found inside McDonald’s nuggets). But what set Roy’s nuggets apart was the coating: it was lightly spiced, which made them killer partners for some thick, sweet honey.

Fast forward about 20 years, and I can’t even remember the last time I saw a Roy Rogers. But I still crave that heavenly combination of crunchy chicken and honey. So when I found this recipe from an old issue of Food & Wine, I knew I had to make it.

Think of it as a sophisticated, worldly version of chicken nuggets and honey: Chicken braised with spices and saffron, then coated with a paste of chopped almonds, honey and rose flower water and baked until golden. The result is tender, aromatic chicken with the crunch of almonds and sweetness of honey. This isn’t finger food — you’ll need a knife and fork — but if you’re anything like me, you’ll suddenly realize you’re using your fingers to get every last, sticky morsel. It’s that good.

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I feel a little like a spinning top these days. Planning wedding, juggling different news stories at work, making time for friends and family — my plate has been a little full. By my calculations, I will be out of town for 5 out of the next 7 weekends. It’s enough to make a girl’s head reel.

The weekends are when I get s%*# done. Hence, being away on the weekends means heaps of dirty laundry pile up, plants go without watering and the refrigerator becomes more and more like a desolate wasteland. Sigh… Dinners will be lookin’ a little strange for the next few weeks…

Weekends are also when I do the bulk of my cooking, and certainly any cooking that takes more than 30 minutes. So much to my dismay, I won’t be eating anything like this roast chicken for quite some time — which is sad because it was super tasty.

This is another one of those dishes that transports you across the Atlantic, making you feel like you’re sitting in a cafe in Aix-en-Provence. The olive oil, the herbes de Provence, the olives and tomatoes — just thinking about them makes me long for another trip to Aix, where I could read, relax and dine…instead of whirling across the northeastern United States managing my life.

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Sunday Night Dinners are big around here. I cook during week, but given that I don’t get home until 7pm or later most nights, any recipe that takes more than an hour to get from the refrigerator to the table is instantly nixed.

But ah, Sundays. On Sundays I can spend a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen, pottering around and trying my hand at a few of the hundreds of recipes I’ve bookmarked. Sunday dinners also provide a nice break from the hassles of the week and the busy socializing of the weekend. I can snuggle up next to my fiance as we share plates, enjoy our apartment and bask in a moment of cozy domesticity.

Sunday Night Dinner doesn’t have to be fancy; in fact, it rarely is. The meals I whip up on Sunday are usually more homey, rustic dishes — like roast chicken (and I have an excellent new roast chicken recipe to share with you soon) or saffron risotto. In fact, on some level it isn’t so much what I cook but rather that can take time to enjoy the process of cooking it. Cooking is always fun, but it’s just more fun on Sundays.

This pork tenderloin and arugula salad is simple, light and delicious and comes together quickly enough that I could probably prepare it on a weeknight. But then I’d rush through it, foregoing the enjoyment I get from smelling the toasted walnuts, deglazing the brown bits from the pan, emulsifying the vinaigrette. On Sunday, I can appreciate all of those steps — and even have dessert in the works at the same time.

Throw in a loaf of crusty bread, some goat cheese and a bottle of red wine, and this salad might have you thinking you’re in France, forgetting that your weekday routine begins again the next day…

Well, maybe doing the dishes will remind you.

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On the Lamb

Noticed a serious dearth of savory recipes on this blog lately? Yes? Well, I swear to you, I really have been cooking. I’ve made slow-roasted pork and braised short ribs and all sorts of drool-worthy concoctions on my stove top. But they came and went, leaving behind only a bunch of dirty pots and pans, with no photographic evidence of their existence. And what fun is it to wax poetic about a recipe without pictures?

So when I made a lamb navarin this weekend, priority numero uno was snapping a few images before we gobbled all of it up.

To be honest, I didn’t grow up loving lamb. So often I found it gamy and uninteresting, and I can honestly say that I’ve never ordered lamb in a restaurant. I’ve tried bits off other people’s plates, and though sometimes the lamb tasted good — really good — I never felt compelled to order it myself, much less cook a whole meal with it.

Then I started dating a Brit and met all of his international compadres and before I knew it, I was eating lamb at dinner party after dinner party. And you know what? I started to like it.

The thing about lamb — or maybe “my” thing about lamb — is that it’s pretty easy to prepare badly. Cook it just a little too long, and it’s tough and dull and rather sorry looking. But when enough of my friends started cooking it well, I realized how tasty good lamb can be.

So when a newly purchased cookbook arrived at my doorstep last week, and I saw a recipe for lamb navarin (a French lamb stew), I knew what this week’s Sunday Night Dinner would be — and, of course, what I’d be photographing ASAP, so that I could share the recipe with all of you.

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In my family, Thanksgiving is a Big Deal — the sort of holiday that I and about two dozen family members and friends look forward to for months. I’ve been known to start thinking about it as early as July.

Traditionally held by my mother, the holiday involves 30lb turkeys and massive crocks of sweet potatoes and vegetables, all eaten on tables decorated with dried leaves and votive candles. Mom doesn’t mess around.

And just like a football coach wouldn’t run a new play at the Super Bowl, my mother doesn’t serve a dish at Thanksgiving unless it has been tested and tweaked and tested again. It’s serious stuff, this Thanksgiving business.

So a few years ago, my mom decided to experiment with a new turkey recipe that claimed you could cook your turkey in about 2 hours at a very high and dry heat and yield the most succulent bird you’ve ever tasted. No basting, no turning, no stuffing. Just bake the bird at 450°F for a couple of hours. The claim sounded improbable, but she figured if it didn’t work out, she’d only wasted 2 hours of her time. She could always fall back on her stand-by recipe.

The turkey turned out fantastically and has since become our Thanksgiving standard. But I started wondering if the same method could be applied to other meats and poultry, particularly chicken. After looking into it, I found that Barbara Kafka has been touting this method of roasting for decades, often to the skepticism of cooks like Julia Child (who was quoted as saying she “hates” this method).

Roast Chicken

I was a little fearful of jacking my oven up to 500°F to roast a chicken, so I found another, similar recipe by Thomas Keller that roasts the chicken at 450°F for about an hour and is positively fantastic. The high, dry heat caramelizes the surface of the skin and melts excess fat and water out of the chicken, which bastes the bird as it cooks.

Thanksgiving is a special day, where I’m surrounded by loved ones and eat holiday fare that I look forward to all year. But this chicken recipe is something special that I can eat all year round, making even an average Monday night something to look forward to.

Roast chicken 2

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