Birthday feast: Soft-Egg Raviolo with Shiitakes and Asparagus

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Raviolo

Every year for my birthday, Vance cooks me the most extravagant, delicious, gorgeous meal of the year, from the beautiful Paley’s Place Cookbook. Candlelit dinner The dish is labor-intensive and completely out of season, so he ends up needing to make a few modifications to it to get the food on the plate.

Shiitakes stand in bravely for morels, and occasionally chickens are more fruitful than ducks in providing the eggs for the decadent pasta dough. Someday we’ll make this in season; in fact as soon as we spot fresh morels at the market we’ll probably push unsuspecting patrons out of the way in order to fill our basket with them and make that happen.

Meanwhile, back in cold, rainy January… Now that I’ve finally procured a digital SLR camera, I was able to document the long process (hopefully) with a quality befitting of such a meal. If you plan on reproducing this at home, leave yourself plenty of time and be sure you have all of the necessary tools in place (a pasta roller is essential, unless you can roll pasta with a wooden rolling pin like an Italian grandmother). Continued after the jump. »

French 75

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Meyer lemons have been popping up at the store with some frequency lately, and I’ve become powerless to stop myself from buying one or two each time I see them. I usually have a sliver of self-control about these things, but Meyer lemons are just too good to pass up. They are these beautiful jewels, something like a cross between a lemon and an orange, and they can be hard to find.

One of my favorite ways to use a Meyer lemon is in cocktails, particularly in a French 75. I made about two dozen of these at a friend’s dinner party the other night, and by the end of the evening had taught a few lessons in how to reproduce it at home. Since the cocktail itself isn’t conducive to memorization, I decided to record it here for anyone who might have “forgotten” it!

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It starts with a few basic ingredients: simple syrup, meyer lemon, gin, and champagne.

Plop a few ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and pour over 3/4 ounce simple syrup, 1 ounce lemon juice (if I’m only making one, I use the juice of the whole lemon), and 1 1/4 ounces gin (I use Beefeaters gin, but you can use your favorite gin here). Shake.

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Pour the mixture into a champagne glass (I’ve also done this in a martini glass). Top off with champagne or Prosecco and a twist of lemon (this is the best tool for that job) and enjoy responsibly.

Tomato and Garlic Stew with Prawns

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The holidays came and went in a flash this year, despite the fact that Vance and I managed to amass over 7,000 miles in our travels. We spent a week in Florida with my parents (that sounds so exotic now!) to celebrate Christmas and my (early) birthday, followed by a week with Vance’s parents out in Colorado. From a warm, windy ride on a boat in the Keys to a traipse through freshly fallen snow in Pueblo, we experienced the full gamut of winter weather possibilities in the span of a fortnight.

I think this may be the first year when I can say I preferred the former. As insane as it seems to wear shorts on Christmas, surrounded by palm trees and orange groves, it felt good to thaw out for a week. Back in Durham now, my shivering muscles are perpetually sore (does that count as a workout?), and I find myself whining to Vance at least once a day about how I’m cold to my bones!

Alas, the grass is always greener.

To be fair, it is beautiful here now, quiet and picturesque, and (best of all I think) it’s perfectly acceptable to curl up in front of the fire with a good book any night of the week. (Currently finishing up Julia Child’s My Life in France, in case you were wondering).

Photo from Donna Hay

The market has narrowed its offerings down to a short list of meats, hearty greens, and root vegetables, but with that comes the excuse to cook simple, easy one-pot meals like this Tomato and Garlic Stew with Prawns.

What makes this stew even easier is when someone else makes it, which Vance heroically did after a full day of me feeling as if I’d been backed over by a Mack truck full of canned tuna. Nothing better than a heating pad, a dog, and a husband who can cook to cheer me up on a day like today. Continued after the jump. »

Roast Chicken with Olive/Bread Panzanella

in Recipes, Travel

Wintry

Vance and I stole away to the mountains for a few days, to relax and recharge for the upcoming end-of-year sprint and have a little Thanksgiving vacation. (Maybe it’s a staycation now that we’re NC residents?) Having never visited the Biltmore during the holidays, we made a nighttime pilgrimage there on Wednesday, followed by the most unbelievable meal at Table in downtown Asheville. A bowl of piping hot local mushrooms over brie started off a meal of Hickory Nut Gap pork chop and sunchoke three ways. A sip of Vance’s apple sidecar cocktail might have stolen the show, though; and for someone who is not a lover of strong liquors that’s saying a lot.

Hard as it was to follow that meal, we decided to cook a semi-traditional dinner at home for Thanksgiving night. Having already cooked two turkeys for a fall dinner party with the team at Relevance, we opted for the smaller, humbler chicken. We caramelized shallots for mashed potatoes that didn’t beg for gravy but stood up on their own; we caramelized brussels sprouts with parmesan to have something green on the plate; and we washed it all down with a bottle of wine we found in the secret stash under the kitchen island.

Thanksgiving plate

Continuing with this year’s theme of Anything-Other-Than-Stuffing-To-Stand-In-For-The-Stuffing (it was savory bread pudding at Eat Relevance), we also crisped some bread and olives up in the pan juices to make a crispy, salty, crouton-y panzanella.

During our Black Friday wandering through downtown Asheville, I finally picked up a copy of Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in The Moment. I only wish I had picked it up sooner, as it didn’t take more than five minutes with the book to have me informing Vance that we’d be cooking our way through it for the next 12 months. I tend to read things backwards anyway (the best recipes are almost always in the back of the magazine), so starting most of the way through this seasonal book shouldn’t throw me off too much.

Brined Roast Chicken with Olive Bread Panzanella

As soon as I saw this recipe in this month’s Food and Wine I knew we had to make it. A half recipe was a perfect stand-in for both turkey and stuffing for a Thanksgiving dinner for two, but it’d be excellent any time of the year for a dressed-up Sunday dinner for six.

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts plus 3 cups tepid water (15 cups)
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 heads of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • 9 rosemary sprigs, plus 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
  • Two 3 1/2-pound organic (preferably local) chickens
  • 1 pound olive bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (we substituted a 1 pound rosemary and sea salt loaf and 1/4 cup kalamata olives)
  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat or melted butter

Preparation

In a very large pot, combine the water, wine, garlic, salt, 2 tablespoons of pepper, lemons, orange and 3 rosemary sprigs. Stir to dissolve the salt. Put the chickens in the brine, breast sides down. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Remove the chickens from the brine and pat dry. Put the chickens in a roasting pan, breast sides up. Stuff the remaining 6 rosemary sprigs in the cavities and tie the legs together. Season lightly with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. Roast for 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and roast at 375° for 1 hour and 15 minutes longer, rotating the pan, until the juices run clear.

Lift the chickens and tilt them to let the cavity juices run into the pan. Transfer the chickens to a carving board and keep warm. Increase the oven temperature to 425°. Add the olive bread cubes and the bacon fat to the pan and toss well. Spread the bread in an even layer and bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until crisp on top and moist underneath. Carve the chickens and serve with the olive bread panzanella.

Tomato and Chorizo Eggs Cocotte

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Baked eggs en cocotte

I’ve always struggled with breakfast; so many common breakfast foods are too sweet, too rich, too complicated, or too served-before-dawn for my taste. In middle school I went through a phase where the only thing I would eat for breakfast was sausage. Sausage. Nasty, greasy frozen sausage patties that nearly always contained a bite or two of gristle. (Gross, I know). I also went through a toaster strudel phase, a cheese phase (that’s American cheese to you — none of this brie or “goat” stuff), a frozen waffle phase, and a brief I-refuse-to-eat-anything-you’ve-suggested phase.

A few years ago I saw a photo that blew the lid off of any “perfect breakfast” I had ever encountered or imagined. It was too simple to impress anyone other than me, I’m afraid; just a couple of eggs cracked into a pan of some leftover tomato sauce, sprinkled with cheese and baked to perfection. It was a peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate kind of moment; the mere presence of an egg in tomatoes gets me every time.

Which is what made this simple dish jump off the page at me. The beauty of it is that it works equally well with standard vine-ripened tomatoes as it does with cherry tomatoes, so as the beefsteaks turn to cardboard (which they have around here) we can still enjoy this dish with sweet, caramelized cherry tomatoes until those, too, have left the market.

Cocotte, by the way, is French for prostitute… or a tiny, personal serving-sized Dutch oven. I’ll leave the choice of definition up to you.

Tomato and Chorizo Eggs Cocotte

Happily, the tomato-egg mixture can be prepared the day before. So if this is going to be breakfast, it should take less than 15 minutes to make. Full disclosure: we typically eat this for dinner. But I’d eat it all three meals if Vance would let me.

This recipe was adapted from Fresh from the Market: Seasonal Cooking with Laurent Tourondel and Charlotte March.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus one additional tablespoon if using cherry tomatoes)
  • ¼ pound Spanish semidry chorizo, casing removed (find this at specialty and natural foods stores, close to the proscuitto and other cured meats)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • ½ fresh poblano chile (we’ve substituted a number of other chiles we had on hand, including a Chipotle Pepper in Adobo Sauce)
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes (alternately, 4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and diced)
  • Pinch of hot paprika
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup grated monterey jack cheese
  • 6 large fresh farm eggs

Preparation

If using cherry tomatoes, preheat the oven to 375°. Slice the cherry tomatoes lengthwise and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil. Arrange on a baking sheet, cut side up, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 12-15 minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they do not burn.

Leave the oven or preheat to 375°. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium saute pan over high heat. Add the chorizo and saute until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a small bowl and leave the oil in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic, and saute until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the onion and chile and cook until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, paprika, and sugar and cook over low heat until very thick and the consistency of jam, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the sauteed chorizo.

Divide the tomato mixture equally among six 8-ounce ramekins (or cocottes, if you have them); top with the cheese. Break an egg into each of the ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan and fill the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the egg whites are just set and the yolks are runny, about 12 minutes. Serve warm.

Grilled Romaine, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Salad with Roasted Tomatoes

in Recipes

Grilled romaine

I spent the better part of last week in New Orleans for RubyConf. I have to confess, before I left for the Crescent City I had little hope of a great time. My memory of the place was darkened by the broken windows and street smells I’d experienced a few years back when Vance and I went for a wedding, not to mention the restaurant we ended up at, where mice flitted openly across the floor, scavenging for scraps.

The Patio at Cafe Amelie

I boarded the flight to NOLA this time with a single culinary goal: eat a pile of beignets from Cafe Du Monde. I came home having “accomplished” much more than a check-in at the legendary coffee stand — we ate like kings at some brilliant restaurants in the French Quarter (no mice in sight).

Emeril’s Delmonico served up a memorable Banana’s Foster; the “Trotter Jennings” at Cochon (Smooth Ambler Vodka, Adrian Adami Prosecco, St. Germain, lemon juice) was a happy punch in the face; Cafe Amelie had a patio that could have come straight out of a Renoir painting; Mr. B’s had a Crawfish “ravioli” that was too good to stop me from over-eating; and naturally there are a few restaurants whose names I’ve already forgotten but whose fried goat cheese salad is the stuff of dreams.

By the time I stepped off the plane at RDU Sunday night, I was ready for a week of straight up salad. This recipe is one I swore I’d try to repeat after the first time I tried it at Fifi’s (a now-defunct Orlando restaurant that was a real neighborhood gem while it lasted). Two things that normally don’t go together — lettuce and a hot grill — marry up in this unconventional blue cheese salad. Try it alongside a bowl of soup or with some crusty bread.

Grilled Romaine, Bacon, and Blue Cheese Salad with Roasted Tomatoes

This mayonnaise-free blue cheese dressing is lighter and tangier than the traditional version, which makes it a great appetizer. Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a first course.

Ingredients

  • 2 heads romaine lettuce, rinsed and left whole
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, mixed colors if you can find them
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for greasing the grill
  • 3 thick slices smoked organic bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 scallion
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the tomatoes in half. Toss with the olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast the tomatoes for 15-20 minutes.

Cook bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet.

Whisk together 1/2 tablespoon hot bacon fat, sour cream, milk, vinegar, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper until smooth. Stir in scallion and 1/3 cup blue cheese. Thin with additional milk if desired.

Light a grill or heat a grill pan over medium heat. Cut the washed heads of romaine straight down the middle, starting at the stem end. Brush the grill or grill pan with a good coating of olive oil. Place the cut halves of romaine, cut side down, onto the grill and grill for 1-2 minutes, until char marks have appeared but the lettuce isn’t terribly wilted.

Transfer the lettuce to plates to serve, dividing the roasted tomatoes, bacon, dressing, and additional crumbled blue cheese evenly over the top. Serve immediately.

Summer Succotash with Corn Cream, Roasted Tomatoes, and Bacon

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Summer succotash

Eight days ago Vance and I were in the middle of throwing one of the most unreal dinner parties we’ve ever hosted. Nineteen friends and coworkers came to enjoy about thirteen different dishes at a tapas party we won’t soon forget. The table was set with rows upon rows of neatly folded napkins; Marcona almonds and a bevy of Spanish cheeses dotted the table at regular intervals, only to be replaced by platter after bowl of homemade tapas-inspired fare.

All but one of our dishes made it out, and to be honest, I don’t think we could have stuffed any more food into our guests without having to physically roll them out the door. All that said, we did a lot of eating leftovers (and admittedly, eating out) during our week of recuperation, so sorry for missing a week’s worth of posts. (And no, we have no photos from the party — too busy in the kitchen! — but I promise it happened, and it was a worthy excuse for a blog vacation). Continued after the jump. »

Greek Salad (In a jar!)

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Greek salad in a jar!

I was “lucky” enough to be introduced to McDonald’s Salad Shakers at the ripe age of thirteen. I guess you could say they made an impression on me, because I’m still amused by salads that come packaged in a shake-able format. What could be better than a salad that travels well, and is easy to mix with the dressing when the time comes?

That will be my one plug for McDonalds on this blog. Promise.

Greek salad to go

Anyway, with Vance working like a bleary-eyed developer at a nutty start-up, our dinners can’t be the elaborate affairs they used to be. At least not on weeknights. So I’ve tried to pick recipes that are quick, healthy, and easy, and can be packaged up for lunch the next day without going through too many dishes. This fits all three of those requirements to a tee.

Continued after the jump. »

Heirloom tomato, purple pea, and farmer’s cheese crostata

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Summer market tart with slow roasted tomatoes and purple hull peas

One of the things I’ve grown to miss about Orlando is our membership in the local food cooperative. While we’re closer to CSA’s than we’ve ever been, we didn’t get here until after the start of the season and so haven’t had an opportunity to take part. The nearest food co-op is outside the city, in Hillsborough or Chapel Hill, and that’s unsustainable considering my current mode of transportation.

All that to say, we’ve become spoiled by the Durham farmer’s market, our most reliable source of locally grown fare. There’s so much in season right now, we never have to try anything new because of the abundance of local veg we already love. The mystery box of produce we’d get from the co-op back in Florida, even with its peculiar, self-peeling “fruit” and occasional off-putting melons, broadened our palettes and forced us to consume copious amounts of greens and vegetables we would have otherwise avoided entirely.

Continued after the jump. »

The one where I tell you what’s behind that gorgeous burrata photo

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Burrata salad

Last week we made what might just be the quintessential summer lunch. It was the most unusual salad I’ve had probably ever, combining sweet cubes of watermelon with tart, juicy heirloom cherry tomatoes and the most uncanny cheese: burrata.

Burrata was new to me until I came across it in Laurent Tourondel’s gorgeous Fresh from the Market cookbook. It’s one of those cheeses you’d be hard-pressed to find in a standard American grocery store, since it’s short-lived and finnicky.

Continued after the jump. »