Wednesday, April 29, 2009

hot kitchen? cool cure.

i can't believe that it was only
weeks ago 
that i was complaining
about the never-ending winter,
the delay of spring
and how i could use a little

because now?
now it's hot.
and humid.
and i have the hair to prove it.

in some ways it's nice:
to walk the streets and see
people tucking away
from their sidewalk seats
in front of restaurants,
to slip on flip-flops
before running out the door,
to actually crave
the watermelon piling
up in bins.

but every year, i somehow
forget that as soon
as the days border
on heavenly outside,
inside, they're sweltering.
we're lucky enough to have two
permanent air conditioning units,
but when it is extra hot,
they are no match for our fourth floor
and the kitchen usually 
suffers first.

so this weekend, 
after avoiding an entire 
saturday of cooking,
i braced myself for sunday night.
what i really wanted was fish,
but i knew that involved
either standing
over a steaming
or facing the extra heat
provided by a 400 degree oven.

instead, i made one of my
hot weather standbys
(although, honestly, i don't 
think i've ever before
had to pull out the dish in april).
it's a toss together pasta 
from giada,
who i happen to really enjoy
(i'm willing to discuss why
if anyone disagrees).
yes, this means a pot of 
scalding water,
but the recipe
is so quick and easy,
that i can put a flame
under the pot of water,
make the sauce
and be out of the kitchen
before even the first
tiny bubble boils
to the surface.
here's what you do.
chop garlic in the food
processor. add:
goat cheese
whirl together.
ready for pasta.
and so bright, so pretty.

spinach leaves wait 
in your serving bowl
and when the pasta - 
whole grain which i love
(less guilt, nuttier flavor,
chewier texture) -
is perfectly al dente,
you dump the lot
on top of the veggie.
the heat and steam
from the penne wilts
the greens just enough.
tossed with the sauce
and sprinkled with cheese,
it's the perfect in-and-out
of the kitchen
it's that simple.
spicy from the garlic, smooth without
cream, just the right temperature
thanks to mixing hot and cold together.
it's pesto-like, minus the oil, nuts and
drop-by-drop dripping.
and, it's a good way to sneak in a vegetable -
and goat cheese - to the unsuspecting.

often, like most, i think,
pasta makes me feel guilty.
but, when it's unbearable
in the house, i can work in
a vegetable
the dish requires only
as much time as it
takes for the penne to cook,
i can honestly say,
this dish is nothing to feel
guilty about.
especially if you don't have
an air conditioner
in your kitchen.

whole grain penne with spinach and goat cheese
adapted from giada de laurentiis
the recipe is so simple, that i almost feel like you don't need the nitty gritty details, that the above is enough to go on. but i will give it to you anyway - you never know when another heat wave will come through and who wants to think then?the original recipe used 1 ounce of cream cheese, which to me is a waste of a purchase. instead of buying a bar, i always up the goat cheese. also, the garlic is raw, which i'm fine with, but if you're sensitve to such things, don't hesitate to reduce it by a clove or two. the great thing about this dish is that it's great as is when it's too warm to focus on an extra step, but can also really shine when mixed with halved graped tomatoes, grilled shrimp or torn basil.

1 box (16 ounces) whole grain penne
3 cloves garlic, ends trimmed and halved
1 bag (6 ounces) baby spinach, divided
3 ounces goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons grated parm

in saucepot, bring water to a boil; add salt. when water returns to a boil, add whole grain penne. cook according to package directions. just before draining, remove 1 cup pasta water. drain pasta. 

meanwhile, place garlic cloves in food processor; pulse until chopped. add half the spinach leaves, goat cheese, salt and pepper; process 1 minutes, or until mixture is smooth.

place remaining spinach leaves in serving bowl. as soon as pasta is drained, transfer to serving bowl on top of spinach. add spinach sauce. let mixture sit several minutes; toss together. if you need more liquid, splash in cooking water. season mixture with salt and pepper. sprinkle with grated cheese.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

business trip breakdown

the night before
i "suggest" that he just
skip the trip.
they'll understand, i say.
he suggests back, that he 
can, but probably,
as a result,
could lose his job.
he gives me the option.
i say he should go.

day 1
he leaves at four in the 
after work that night,
i go out to dinner
with friends,
at sushi lounge in hoboken.
i get my favorite spicy scallop roll.
at home, i watch 13 going on 30,
fall asleep with the tv
on and honestly, rather enjoy the day.

day 2
i have a hard day at work. 
i planned to cook for jenn, but
cannot get myself near the kitchen.
we go out for dinner and laugh
the whole time. somehow, 
it took us hours to eat what
it took others an hour to enjoy.
the lights turn off while we're still
cooking our noodles.
i realize, at the end of the meal
that i never opened the diet coke
i had asked for,
and to my surprise,
came in a can. 
i toss it in my pocketbook.

day 3
i wake up determined to cook
jenn breakfast. i peruse all
my cookbooks, checking
off each item that i didn't have:
sadly, the list goes on.
i leave jenn with a plateful
of concord and muscat grapes
and decide to make goat cheese
frittatas. they are a disaster.
my new mini pans smell like they're
burning. the eggs, are, in fact,
burning. i dump them in the
garbage and feel inadequate.
later, that night,
i wait with my father for 
my sister and her boyfriend
to return from cancun.
we get a text that says,
how's asia star for dinner? 
totally craving sushi.
so we go.
here, i have my other favorite roll:
snow white, which is white tuna over spicy yellow tail.
i don't speak to larry until after nine.
it's been hours since i've
started worrying that something
unspeakable has happened.
he's fine. just working.

day 4
i wake up and i have no 
idea where i am.
i realize that i'm in my 
sister's bed and have actually
slept until after 10, shocking
on many levels.
my sister and father and
and i have delicious
whitefish salad on a flagel.
i remember how much i 
like whitefish salad.
later, my mom and i discuss
salts, and the merits
of different kinds,
for at least 10 minutes.
my sister looks...bored.
when larry calls after 5,
i'm grumpy for no reason 
and am not up for
talking. when he calls
back at 7:30, before going
to dinner, i feel guilty
and try to be a better
i think about watching
the amazing race,
but it doesn't seem right
without him.
that night i cannot sleep.

day 5
i have a normal day at
work. when i drive
it's pouring. 
i drive carefully,
and make the 
decision to just sort of
sit and not do anything.
it's hard.
i'm bored.
i'm tired of his
business trip.

day 6
i have a very weird
day at work, accompanied
by an odd schedule.
i find myself without
anything to do from 12:30-4.
i run errands and then realize
there is not enough time
to go home before
i have to go back to work.
i buy magazines and head
to mitsuwa, excitedly.
i order, what is deemed,
a side dish of 
crab flakes
for lunch.
it is $2.95.
i'm in heaven.
then i realize i didn't 
get a drink.
in a rare moment of clarity,
i reach into my bag,
and pull out the 
can of diet coke from friday night.
i read food and wine and
stop for an extra second
wondering why some recipes
just immediately suck me in and
others take a long time
to seem like a good idea.
at 11:15 that evening, i'm driving home from
work. it's raining again.
i'm very tired.
and i realize, i miss larry a lot.
i'm ready for him to come
home, for us to hang out
and for this going away
business to be done,
at least until june,
when he's headed for berlin.
once home, i cannot sleep.
i watch all of american
idol and housewives of new york
city. i hate kelly. i realize
that i really want to make larry something
to welcome him home, something
that i would never normally make,
something that is very obviously,
just for him.
i remember the extravagant savory
sweet potato pie and know that it
will be his welcome home meal. 
i have a plan. i can sleep.

day 7
i drive home from work in the rain.
once i get there, i learn that i didn't 
actually have cornmeal for the crust
like i thought i did. 
it's pouring now.
i decide that this pie will 
have to be made in my standard pie shell.
but i'm bummed.
i roast the sweet potato. 
the recipe had called
for several small, 
but i, 
not paying attention,
had bought one 1-pounder. 
after 45 minutes,
it's still hard as a rock. 
i up the temp to 400˚f
and cook the sucker for 30 minutes more.
then, i have to wait a long time for 
it to cool.
in the meantime,
i mix together the crust, chill it, roll it out
and realize that it is so hot in the kitchen,
there is no way for the finished
product to be tender and flaky.
i chill the dough, in the pie plate
for 30 minutes,
before filling with dried beans 
and baking.
i remove the plate from the oven
to cool and
a little piece breaks off (not ideal).
i taste it and am glad for the extra
chilling. the texture is perfect.
somehow, it is now late. 
i'm sleepy.
i debate stopping at this point
and preparing the filling
the next night, but i realize
how much i would regret it 
in the morning. 
i make the mixture, which
is ridiculously easy (and to me,
ridiculously indulgent)
and at 10:34,
place the pie in the oven.
as i'm putting it on the rack,
i think, this looks like 
melted velveeta cheese.

when it comes out of the oven,
4o minutes later,
i think, this looks like
cooked velveeta cheese.
i leave it out to cool.
3 in the morning, i am woken up
from the couch by larry,
home almost 7 days to the hour
after he left.
i stumble to wrap the pie
put it in 
the fridge.

the next day
i am disappointed to realize
the store doesn't have mustard
greens that i wanted to make the 
accompianing salad.
i buy kale instead.
i get home and the house smells
delicious, like a spicy
simmering marinara sauce.
did you cook, i ask?
we argue for a few minutes
over whose meal we will eat,
both of us advocating for the 
others person's dish.
we decide on his because he 
added shrimp to his sauce.
a minute later, we learn
that not only did we both make
dinner, we also both
ran the dishwasher that morning.

the next next day
i go to a different store
that has mustard greens.
i'm excited.
we heat up the pie
and i toss together a very
easy simple salad
of mustard greens, apple
and toasted pecans in a 
homemade buttermilk dressing.
the pie, thank goodness,
does not taste anything like
the crust is incredibly flaky,
the filling so smooth
and creamy and the dots
of andouille, spicy,
but not overwhelming.
the soft supper is perfectly
balanced by the crisp cool
we eat dinner in our pajamas,
sharing a bottle of beer
watch the yankee game.

sweet potato and andouille pie
adapted from food and wine magazine
the original piecrust called for cornmeal, which i think would have been delicious. i used my traditional crust, which i've provided the recipe for here. if you're one of those freaky people (like me) who tastes the raw dough, don't be alarmed if the crust tastes overly salty, it will even out by the time it's baked. also, i used turkey and chicken andouille instead of the traditional pork. i think it worked out well. other than that, i obeyed the recipe pretty well. i very, very much wanted to reduce the cream to whole milk, or at least half and half, but i was very worried that it would break in the oven.

1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed and pierced with a fork
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and chilled until ready to use
2-3 tablespoons ice cold water
3 links chicken-turkey andouille sausage (about 9 ounces), chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1 cup heavy cream
fresh ground pepper
3 large egg yolks

heat oven to 400˚f. wrap sweet potato in aluminum foil and roast potato 1 hour, or until tender. unwrap and let cool. 

reduce oven temperature to 350˚f.

meanwhile, in food processor, combine flour, salt, sugar and butter; pulse just until pebble-like pieces form. with motor running, drizzle in 2 tablespoons ice water; process just until mixture comes together. if you feel the mixture needs a bit more liquid, drip in a drop at a time. remove dough from mixer and flatten into a disk; wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes. on floured surface, using rolling pin, rolling out dough into 13" round; transfer dough to pie plate by rolling dough around rolling pin and unrolling in plate. gently press dough firmly into plate. tuck overhang under. at this point, if you feel it is very warm in your kitchen or the dough has gotten too warm, place pie plate in fridge and chill 30 minutes more.

prick bottom crust several times with fork. cover dough with foil; fill with dry beans. bake 30 minutes or until crust is barely set. remove foil and dry beans. bake 10 minutes more, or until the crust is dry and very lightly brown. let cool.

in large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat, cook andouille 5 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occassionally. add onion, garlic and dried sage; cook 5 minutes more, or until softened. let cool slightly.

peel sweet potato; place in food processor. add cream and puree until very smooth. season with salt and pepper. add egg yolks and process until incorporated. transfer the filling to a large bowl and stir in andouille mixture. transfer to crust, smoothing top. bake 45 minutes, or until the filling is set (this took me 40 minutes). let cool on rack 20 minutes; cut and serve. you can also make it ahead, cool completely, cover and chill in the fridge. reheat in oven.

mustard greens with apple, pecans and buttermilk dressing
adapted from food and wine magazine
the recipe that runs in food and wine features watercress, but mentions the donald link, the original creator of the recipe for his new orleans' restaurants, uses mustard greens. i am a huge fan of the spicy green, much more so than watercress, so i jumped at the chance. if you're not a fan of the leaves, try it with watercress or even romaine. i added toasted pecans and played with the proportions of the dressing, which in the end, i was glad about. it's extremely light - and gives the greens a very light coating. if you like your salad very dressed, i would make more of the dressing.

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 pinch sugar
kosher salt
black pepper
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 bunch mustard greens (about 10 ounces)
1 large granny smith apple, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup pecans, broken into large pieces and toasted

in small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper; drizzle in corn oil, whisking constantly. 

stem mustard greens; tear leaves into bite-size pieces. combine greens with apples and pecans; drizzle with dressing and toss to combine just before serving.