Thursday, April 29, 2010

sardine and peppadew sandwich

sardines, capers, shallots, mustard, peppadews
i have guilt.
tiny fish guilt.
for years, i fell victim
to the popular digs -
about tiny fish found
in tiny cans. i'm open to
trying almost anything,
but the opportunity never
presented itself and i was
fine with that.

and then
one day, i had a marinated
white anchovy. my eyes were
opened. from there, i had
anchovies on pizza, in pasta
the first one to poke my chopsticks
into the small bowls of even teenier
fish set on the table at a korean
restaurant and i willed myself
to try these bite-size crabs. i loved them.

but, still, until three months ago,
sardines were not really part of my life.
then, i ordered them, fresh and grilled, at a restaurant
when nothing else on the menu seemed
appealing. there were five, all with mini bones
to be removed from the admittedly flavorful flesh,
which i was not crazy about.

a month later, when i took larry
to degustation for his amazing birthday dinner,
one of the 10 courses featured sardines.
on one side of the plate was a
freshly cured curl, the other side was
fried and served with pickled onions. it
was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

although, yes, i know there is a difference
between fresh sardines and canned,
in my life, that seemed like the next
most practical leap -
so i started researching them
and buying them: one layer, two layer,
skinless and boneless, whole, packed in oil,
packed in spring water.
(i still haven't ventured
into the tomato sauce, pepper or mustard
packed cans.)

i realized that i like them all,
but if I was forced to tell you about one,
it would have to be the two layer sardines,
packed in olive oil, which for the effort of
opening the can, rewards you with two layers
of fish, from head to tail. trust me - i'm
the person who vowed to never again buy
canned salmon and attempt salmon cakes
after realizing what it meant to remove
the bones from the can. this is different -
the bones are so tiny and tender, that
i didn't even realize they're there. and,
if you are someone who does not like
seeing the entire fish looking back at you,
don't worry - once mashed,
nothing is recognizable.
they are flavorful, but not insultingly so,
much closer to tuna in harshness,
than ultra briny anchovies.

so, i started adding them to different
things, like pasta and salads.
and i started making sandwiches,
like this one,
with capers and mustard,
and spicy-sweet peppadews,
which i hope you try.

but, i will say this.
i'm fully aware that if the idea of opening a can
and seeing these sardines stare back at you,
finding out there are anchovies in your salad dressing
or dried shrimp in your thai food will upset you,
this sandwich is not for you.
this is not a recipe about conversion
or arm twisting.
it's a recipe about another choice for people
who already are fans - or maybe for those like
me: willing, but in need of a push.
sardine and peppadew sandwich
i've made this with a couple different types of canned sardines, which frankly, have all worked. so, feel free to use whatever you have on hand. but, if you're going out and shopping for them, i'm partial to the two layer in olive oil, which surprisingly boast less fat than the sister can packed in spring water. served on a baguette, it's a hearty sandwich appropriate for a fast or home-alone dinner, but on sliced bread, would be great for lunch. also, i think it's fair to say that this is one of those guideline recipes - adjust to suit your taste.

1 large juicy lemon, halved
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
3 tins sardines
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 heaping tablespoon capers, drained
salt and pepper
6-8 peppadews, sliced
mayonnaise, if you like that kind of thing
1 baguette, ends trimmed or 6-8 slices bread (depending on how packed you like your sandwiches

squeeze lemon juice into small mixing bowl. stir in shallots. let sit 20 minutes.

remove sardines from tins and add to bowl (i would refrain from simply overturning the tins into the bowl - you will end up with a lot of oil). using fork, mash sardines. stir in dijon mustard and capers. add salt and pepper to taste. adjust seasonings.

slice baguette in half or place bread slices on clean surface. spread with a thin layer of mayonnaise, if desired. divide sardine mixture evenly among bread slices or bottom layer of baguette. top with peppadews. cut baguette into four even pieces.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

marinara-simmered chickpeas with feta

tomato simmered-chickpeas, sheep & goat feta, couscous
on june 1,
four years ago,
larry and i moved into
our first place together.
we had been a couple
for almost three years and
this move, while a long
time coming, was a huge
decision for me.
i'm someone who takes every
possible outcome very seriously.

it had taken a little soul searching
to settle on this old two bedroom,
two bathroom, two parking spot
space, two blocks from the
george washington bridge,
instead of the brand new
one bedroom
facing the hudson river,
but as soon as we were in, it
felt like the right move.

the movers came on a friday
and it started pouring the second
they left. i quietly thanked someone
for that stroke of good luck, even
though the cable guy was not so lucky
and brought huge puddles onto our
hardwood floors. we grabbed dinner out
that night, and the next night,
my family came and we ordered pizzas.

by sunday, we were unpacked
enough to live. the kitchen, in fact, was
the only thing perfectly
assembled, and i vowed to cook our
first proper meal in our first proper home.

i'm not sure why, but something
made me dip into my someday
stash of recipes. it was a pile i started
making in college, and continued to build
while living with my mom again between
jobs. even though, in college we cooked,
at my mom's house, i cooked, and while
living in my studio, i cooked, it just felt
like the time that i had unknowingly
been saving these recipes for.

i'm not even sure what the big deal was.
none of them were that hard to make.
and, because it was june and hot,
and let's face it,
we were tired from a weekend of work,
i chose a very simple recipe for
feta and chickpeas
simmered in tomato sauce
and served over orzo.

larry sat with me as i cooked.
we both realized, we both live here, now.
no one's going anywhere.

when it was time to serve the pasta,
i was bummed. i wanted our first meal
to be perfect - a hopeful symbol of the time
to come in this apartment that was ours.
but this one wasn't.
the feta kinda, sorta melted,
creating a granular sauce.
the flavor was ok, i guess.

i promised myself that i would
recreate this very fast dish. make it
into something that was secondhand
and delicious. i would make it my own.

but, things happen. and, sometimes
i forget my promises to myself.
we were too busy learning how
to be a couple who lived together,
who shared responsibilities and each
other's lives.

we were busy working,
and when i unexpectedly,
(in life, not in the moment -
i really never make impetuous choices)
decided to go to culinary school,
we were busy getting me through,
emotionally. we stayed together in the kitchen,
night after night of my first couple
weeks as i peeled potatoes and desperately
tried to cut them into perfect little cubes,
crying most of the time.
and on sundays, after a full weekend of
class, when i couldn't even think of
stepping in the kitchen, larry
would make dinner -
usually a marinara sauce,
which he perfected by the time
i graduated.

we were busy,
both quitting our jobs
- mine of six years -
and starting new ones,
in a very scary two week period.
two years later, i can say it was
a good decision.

and we were busy,
getting engaged one friday
on the floor of our dining room,
too excited to do anything,
but stay on the floor, calling
our family and friends.
a year and a half later, we were
busy, leaving our home as
brooke and larry and coming back
two days later as well, still
brooke and larry, because i could
not decide if i wanted to change
my last name. but we were married.
and one day later, we left for
our honeymoon, coming back after
a week of rainy barbados weather,
to our home.

we were busy,
as i started this blog and a normal
night of making dinner, eating dinner
and watching how i met your mother,
turned into a night of taking a million
pictures as i make dinner, downloading
pictures, editing and uploading pictures,
blogging, and now, tweeting.

and most recently,
we've been busy, making another huge
decision that took us a long time to arrive upon:
to move out of what has very
clearly become our home. we're moving
over an hour away to a house that does
not remember us learning how to live
together, my culinary school trials,
our engagement or the first
year and a half of our marriage.

but, it is much, much closer
to my family, it has enough
rooms to make new memories
without suffering overcrowding
from my large pocketbook collection
or williams-sonoma boxes, like some
places i know. it has a kitchen with
a lot of natural light, which the camera
will love if i actually get home before
sundown to use it.

because, yes, i'm keeping
my job up here. my job,
that sometimes keeps me way later
than i think i'll be staying when i start
my day. and my job, that last week,
on one of these crazy days, for some
reason reminded me of that
pasta dish with chickpeas and feta.

it had come back to me a few months
ago, when a coworker talked about and
ultimately made, one of her favorite dishes,
chickpeas simmered in marinara sauce.
a little bell went off in the back of my head.
but then, last week, when i was running late
and my plan for a potato and eggplant curry
flew out the door two hours before, i remembered
the dish, my promise to make it right,
and knew i could make it fast.
onions, garlic, tomatoes, wine, red pepper flakes
tomato sauce, chickpea
first attempt
and it was fast.
i got home after 8pm and by 9pm,
dinner was ready. i had made a very
quick sauce, simmered with canned chickpeas,
stirred in beautifully-melting
goat cheese, and tossed the whole thing
with pasta. it was not so pretty. it tasted kind
of gummy. it didn't work.
four years of keeping
a dish lodged firmly in the back of my mind,
for this?
dried chickpeas
plum tomatoes, red pepper flakes, chopped garlic
i was going to make it right.
and soon. we're on borrowed time in
fort lee and i am not letting another couple of years
go by. so, i started with dried chickpeas,
which i soaked and cooked with a few cloves
of garlic on sunday.
monday night, i remade the white wine-laced
tomato sauce, stirring in the chickpeas to
simmer for about 25 minutes, while
i made a pot of israeli couscous, halved
a lemon, plucked basil leaves and crumbled feta.

yes, i went back to feta.
because, yes, i loved the idea of the cheese
making the whole sauce a little luxuriously creamy,
but there's something pretty amazing
about crumbles of feta
occasionally finding their way onto your
fork, too. the only difference, was that i splurged
and bought my favorite, very creamy,
sheep and goat feta, which when warmed,
is lovely.

when the sauce was ready,
i squeezed in lemon for brightness
and dropped in torn basil leaves for freshness
and much needed color.
two very worthwhile additions.
after spooning the whole thing
atop couscous - seemingly
much more appropriate than pasta -
i sprinkled on some of that crumbled feta.
and, i felt very good about that decision.
second attempt
marinara-simmered chickpeas with feta
i've added red pepper flakes in with the onions before sauteing to give the entire dish a little heat and the lemon and basil really add another dimension to this otherwise potentially predictable sauce. all three could be increased or decreased according to your taste. i wish i could tell you how i cooked the couscous, which i ultimately tossed with a bit of lemon juice and grated parm, but something was absolutely lost in translation between my memory of making israeli couscous and the execution. if anyone has a foolproof method for the toasting-absorption method, please let me know.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup white wine
1 can (32 ounces) plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked* or 2 cans (14 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large juicy lemon, halved and seeded
25-30 large basil leaves
cooked couscous or orzo for serving
4 ounces sheep and goat feta, crumbled
grated parm

in large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat; when hot, add onions and red pepper flakes. season with salt and black pepper. cook 2 minutes. reduce heat to medium-low and cook 10 minutes, or until softened. increase heat to medium and cook 5 minutes more, or until just starting to turn golden. add garlic. cook 1 minute more, or until tender, stirring constantly.

add wine; increase heat to high and boil 2 minutes, or until mostly reduced, stirring occasionally. add plum tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands as you add them to the skillet; add juice from can. season with salt and pepper. bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. add chickpeas; simmer 25-30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender and the mixture has thickened. adjust seasoning.

squeeze lemon juice into sauce; stir to combine. working quickly, tear basil leaves into small pieces and add to sauce. cook 30 seconds more, or until basil is wilted. serve over cooked couscous or orzo. sprinkle with feta. serve with plenty of grated parm for sprinkling at the table.

*to cook dried beans: rinse chickpeas. place in large bowl and cover with several inches of cold water. let sit at least 8 hours. drain beans and rinse. place chickpeas in a large saucepot. add three cloves smashed garlic. cover with 8 cups water; bring to a boil. reduce heat; cook at a bare simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. if not using chickpeas right away, let cool completely in their cooking liquid; store in the liquid, in the fridge, until ready to use.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

roasted parsnip fries

roasted parsnips
i love fries that are
super crisp on the outside
and meltingly tender
inside. i also love
fries that are just
really, really crisp.

these fries?
well, they're

it's just a fact - parsnips,
like sweet potatoes,
never fully reach
their crunch potential.
but, they do taste delicious.

and, if you opt to call them
something different,
like say,
roasted parsnips,
no one will ever complain
about the texture.
they'll be too busy realizing
they've spent way too long
ignoring parsnips.

at least,
that was what happened with me.
i blame it on carrots.
and turnips.
i've told you before that i'm
not crazy about carrots. and once,
a while ago, i had my first turnip
and instantly knew that i did not
care for it. so parsnips,
which look like white carrots
and are often lumped in with
turnips in everyday conversations,
were quickly swept into the
no, thank you pile.
parsnips, peeled
then, a couple years ago,
i was served a parsnip, roasted,
and i could not believe what
i was tasting: earthy, sweet,
deep-flavored and truly tender
vegetables that were hard to forget.

i've made them many times
since, very simply tossed
with olive oil and roasted.
and to be honest,
this side dish didn't really
seem like one worth
telling you about.
doesn't everyone toss their
veggies with oil
and roast them
these days?

but the last time i went to
make them - feeling funny
because it's spring and i should
be talking about
and asparagus - larry asked
why i haven't blogged about these
tender veggies.

and he's right.
they're often the right answer to
a very popular question in my house:
what should i serve this with?
once they're peeled and trimmed,
they're very quick to toss together:
just a little vinegar,
a little olive oil,
some cayenne, salt and pepper.
and, when they come out of the oven
sweet and golden,
they're just waiting to be eaten
a little improperly with fingers,
not forks and knives.
parsnip peels
parsnips, vinegar, olive oil, cayenne
so i took some pictures -
some very, very white,
bland pictures that the
magazine i used to work
for would never approve of -
and made myself measure
out ingredients. and when
they were done, they were
not crisp, not crunchy,
but yummy.

and if you can rationalize,
as i can, that spring
vegetables are just (just) starting
to show their green selves in
the markets. and today, at least,
it's freezing outside - much more a day
for roasted root veggies that
are admittedly a little bit autumn,
than for grilled fava beans,
which usually belong smack in
the middle of april,
i hope you'll be able to enjoy them
as much as we do.
roasted parsnip fries
roasted parsnip fries
here's the deal with parsnips: smaller ones can be cut and quartered. larger ones, which yield a larger quantity of sticks (usually eight), need to be slightly cored. it's your call - here, i used five medium-large parsnips. and, one more thing, using two baking pans will increase your chances of getting even a little bit of crispness out of some of your parsnips. when you force all pieces to share one baking sheet, they're too close together, causing them to steam, not roast.

5 medium-large parsnips, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
cayenne pepper

heat oven to 425˚f.

quarter one parsnip; cut cores out of centers. halve each piece lengthwise. you should have 8 parsnip fries. repeat with remaining parsnips.

in bowl, toss together parsnips, vinegar, olive oil, 2-3 pinches cayenne pepper and a few very healthy pinches salt and pepper. arrange parsnips in single on two parchment paper or aluminum foil-lined baking sheets, separating to make sure there is space around each parsnip.

roast 12 minutes; flip parsnips. sprinkle with a little salt and drizzle with olive oil, if desired. roast 12-14 minutes more, or until golden brown and tender. (i usually start looking in the oven after about 10 minutes.