Monday Musings: When Seeking Excellence in a Dining Companion

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I am an old soul. A nostalgic of excruciating terms. I am basically a cranky old bastard of 81 in a 23-year-old’s body.

I once met a man who told me that he hated it when people were slow about ordering and eating at a restaurant. I rebutted that dining was an experience, no matter if it was at your local Chili’s or at a fine dining restaurant. Dining is meant to be enjoyed slowly with good company. Needless to say, there was no second date with said man.

There is something to be said about a long, slow meal that begins with drinks, appetizers, and good conversation. The noise of the restaurant around you dulls to a gentle roar that you and your companions barely notice as you immerse yourselves fully in each other’s words. Then, the night crescendos as that one friend, who is constantly on the lookout for the delivery of your food like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth (usually I play this role), alerts the rest of the table of the imminent conveyance of the entrees.

The table’s conversation slowly decrescendos as everyone takes their first bite. Soft moans replace words and the act of near-carnal mastication ensues.

And dessert? Well, dessert is the climax, of course. The denouement to an epic, culinary saga. And with a strong, black coffee ? Get outta here.

(And if you are one of those who drowns a good coffee with milk and sugar – come back to me when you grow some hairs on your prepubescent chest.)

Other than that aforementioned man, most of my dinner companions seem to understand how to act when enjoying a meal. One of my friends, when he was still new to me as a dining companion, instantly endeared himself to me when he asked the table, “are we just here to eat and go or are we going to order an appetizer, talk and enjoy ourselves?” We are still friends to this day and I’m not ashamed to admit that moment helped my affection for him along.

So what do I look for in a happy dinner companion?

  1. Timeliness. 5 – 15 minutes late is forgivable – desired, even! Fashionably late will always be a universal truth in dining but any more so and I’ll get hangry. Don’t test me.
  2. If I am cooking or if someone else is cooking, I find host gifts or small contributions like wine or bread to be incredibly impressive. My friends and I are so casual that we usually let each other know if we want/need something brought to the table. Even so, it’s still nice to demonstrate the appreciation of the effort. I think these days, polite appreciation is diminishing slowly. (See? I’m an 80-year-old.)
  3. For restaurant dining – This isn’t terribly important to me, especially if we are going nowhere incredibly elegant, but I think looking presentable and less like the daily grunge is really exciting to me. I am one of the most casual people you will ever meet but I will always dress up in a nice shirt and, at least, pants devoid of nose stains from my dog.
  4. Wine. Please, PLEASE drink with me? PLEASE? We don’t have to get hammered. In fact, I’d rather us not on most days. But seriously, let’s have a cocktail.
  5. Conversation and manners. This seems so old-school but, do you chew with your mouth open? Do you slurp in an environment that isn’t serving ramen?  Do you sit quietly? Withdrawn and uncomfortable? Come on, guys. Listen to the news, read a book, watch a movie – tell me something about your life and keep your elbows off the table!
  6. Mood. Please, oh please, do not come to dinner at my house or with me to a restaurant in a mood. Please do not fight with your significant other over some inane issue that I could care less about at the table. TRY to have a good time?  Life sucks. I know. Sometimes you have to vent. I’m here for you. However, let’s take a break from it for a moment and have a good meal.
  7. And I swear to god, if I see you on that phone for more than a second just to check on the status of your kid, cat, fish, mother or whatever – just don’t bother. You want to be on the phone or whatever device that Chinese sweatshops vomit out the whole night? Don’t eat with me.
  8. Over all, let’s have a good time. I love you. I don’t see you enough. I want to laugh with you, share desserts with you, swap stories, catch up and marvel over plates heaped with food. I want to spoil you with compliments and tell you how much I’ve missed you. Friend, family, lover, dog – whoever you are, if I make a point to share food with you, understand that it is the most powerful sign of affection.

Also – if you enjoy a good cigar and a bourbon – please marry me. Not a dining requirement, though. (Did I mention I was an 80-year-old man? Complete with elbow patches, bow ties, and a permanent scowl.)

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Local Spotlight: Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery

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I’ll be completely honest. I am number one fangirl of ALL foods.

But.

One of the area of the world that holds my constantly-hungry-heart is the Middle East. Israeli food, Arabic food, Palestinian food, Middle Eastern food – whatever you may call it, I lust after it. It haunts my dreams. My eternal nightmare is a word without hummus, hot pita breads, heady spices, pastries soaked with honey and orange water, pistachios, dates – dear god. I’m starving. 

This food, if you have never experienced it, is beautiful and heavily scented of spices, foreign sands, beautiful languages and an ancient culture that I have barely come to understand but desperately want to.

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Fresh pitas, phyllo pastries with sweet cheese and honey, pastries with sesame seeds and date paste, labneh (yogurt), Za’atar (spice mix)

(Also, hi. If you’re reading this and your family makes this kind of food – PLEASE HAVE ME FOR DINNER. I’m very charming, polite, and will pay you in compliments and appreciative mmm’s and aahhhh’s and greedy moaning as I eat. I also am not above buying the groceries, if you need much more convincing!)

When I go to places like Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery, I am instantly immersed in a different world. One that seems so far away but is so present in my daily life. Stores like this are all over my city but it still feels like escaping to a different realm filled with briny olives, grilled meats and toasted sesame seeds.

The store is a one-stop-shop for all the ingredients you would need to make a delicious meal. Jars of tahini (sesame seed paste – commonly used to make hummus), drums of fragrant olive oil, containers of red chili paste and mountains of fresh pita and pastries behind a glass case near the counter – all the stuff of beautiful dreams.

I never leave without spending a small fortune – which gets me quite a bit since prices are much too affordable to be safe around me.

Go. Go to Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery. Go today. Don’t waste a single moment because those beautiful pastries and pita will be gone in a flash and you will have no one to blame but yourself.

Below: 

  1. Delicate phyllo pastry with a sweet cheese filling and drenched in a honey syrup.
  2. Freshly-baked pita with beautifully-spiced beef on top. 

Yes. I realize that it may be a blogging faux-pas to have pictures of half-eaten food but…HOW? How do you expect me to take a picture first then eat? That’s not how my world works. Food comes first.

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Cornish Hens with Apples and Parsnips – Thanksgiving Pregame

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Have you ever had a Cornish Hen?

I feel like anything in miniature-sized is always exciting. Chickens are no exception. I’d say they’re cute but there is something morbid about called a fun-sized, dead chicken cute.

Anyways.

The flavors surrounding this roast is a little unorthodox. It feels very German with the beautiful scent of caraway seeds and the subtle but sweet inclusion of apples. The apples don’t add a dessert-like effect to the dish but rather a break from the savory stimulation of the onions and garlic. Also, we’re basting the chickens with a nice ale. You can’t get more German than beer!

Also – parsnips. Parsnips, though easily found in all grocery stores, are one of the most neglected yet wonderful root vegetables. They taste somewhere between a potato and a carrot and have an interesting herbaceous after-note. The parsnips compliment the caraway seeds and the apples incredibly well. Don’t skip them. You’ll be sorry.

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All of this together equates to a kitchen filled with heady smells and an easy roast dinner that will certainly put you in the mood for that big Thanksgiving meal in your near future.

And in my house, we make gravy. You’ll have gravy or get out.

Just kidding, please stay for dinner. Please?

Cornish Hens with Apples and Parsnips

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Cornish Hens
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2  tsps Granulated or Powdered Garlic
  • 1 tsp of caraway seeds
  • 2 medium granny smith apples
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of beer (not dark beer)
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Gravy:

  • Chicken and veggie drippings left in the pan
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 3 tblsps of butter
  • 3 tblsps of flour
  • the rest of your bottle of beer (about 1/2 cup)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cut up your apples and parsnips into 1 inch wedges. In your large roasting pan, toss your apples, parsnips and onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Distribute the vegetables evenly and make a space in the middle for the hens to sit.
  3. In a small bowl, make a mixture of the garlic powder, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the caraway seeds. Pat your hens dry and place them in the middle of your roasting pan. Massage your oil and garlic and caraway mixture all over the surface of the hens.
  4. Place in your preheated oven for 45 minutes. Right at the 30 minute mark, you’ll want to slowly pour 1 cup of your favorite beer (nothing too dark – so no Guinness or chocolate stouts. I suggest a Belgian Ale or a Hefeweizen or any convenient wheat beer) over the hens and the vegetables.
  5. After 45 minutes, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and let the hens bake for another 15 minutes or until the juices run clear.
  6. When finished, carefully transfer the hens to a serving platter and surround with the roasted vegetables. Cover loosely with foil and work on the gravy.

For the gravy:

  1. In the same pan that you roasted your hens in, place it on your burners ( I generally use the front and the rear burners on one side of the stove). Melt the three tablespoons of butter and sprinkle the three tablespoons of flour over the butter. Stir constantly for 1 minute, making sure that you scrape up those lovely bits at the bottom of the pan.
  2. Pour in your 1/2 cup of beer and stir, letting the flour and beer mixture come to a bubble for half a minute or so. Pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir. Bring the gravy to a bubble and let it simmer for 2 minutes or until the gravy thickens. At the end, salt and pepper that beautiful beast to taste.

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How to eat:

  1. Rip apart those tiny chickens.
  2. Scoop some roasted vegetables generously onto your plate.
  3. Drown in gravy.
  4. Celebrate your life and stuff your face.

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Monday Musings

 

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This week in November is always saturated with trite proclamations of gratitude.

Sorry, did that sound jaded? I didn’t mean for it to be. I suppose what I meant was that gratitude, in my opinion, is a general state of being. Perhaps, you’re thinking, that I’m a stereotypical, entitled millennial whom appreciates nothing so what would I know about being grateful?

Not true. I come from a working-class, immigrant background and I’ve probably worked multiple jobs since I was 17. I know what it’s like to to appreciate. I am, by no means, unfortunate. I know I’m lucky.

So – to save you from an overly-saccharine soliloquy about Thanksgiving and being grateful, I will just say this:

I am grateful to be alive and all that goes along with it.  

Especially for pie. Pie is a miracle.

 

Also – have some good reads to go along with that food coma this week:

The great debate: Dressing v. Stuffing – Thanksgiving around the U.S.

Did you know it is actually healthy for your heart to be grateful?

And I’ll be damned if I’m not making this self-proclaimed Perfect Sweet Potato Pie this week.

Breaking News: Everything Causes Cancer. Just kidding, but apparently meat consumption just might and the temperature that you’re cooking it at may affect carcinogen levels.

Syrian Refugees – a historical conversation?

And if you’re not making gravy, you can’t sit with us. Just kidding. But the pink on Wednesdays is non-negotiable (name that movie!)

 

Happy Eating. I know I’ll be happy and I’ll be eating. You can be guaranteed that I will be soon be bombarding you with the most trite of thanksgiving food posts (and I’m only being half-facetious).

Food and Movies: The Hobbit – Cherry Chocolate and Almond Scones

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

 

There are actually no words for how much of a Tolkien fan I am. If you want to ever get creative with torture, take a non-Tolkien fan and have them sit with me through all the extended versions of the Lord of The Rings movies. I may or may not make you want to gouge your eyes out and rip your ears off.

Yes. It’s like that.

Aside from the beautiful cinematography, gorgeous, bearded men and sorcery – there are the hobbits. THE HOBBITS.

They are the most wonderful creatures that literally do nothing but live leisurely. Any creature that sets aside time for a SECOND breakfast has my heart.

If you’ve never seen The Hobbit, firstly – shame on you, but I’ll just go ahead and brief you. Bilbo is a hobbit and he accompanies a band of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their home in a large mountain. They have the help of a wizard and get into some shenanigans on the way.

There was a scene in the first installment of the trilogy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in which all of the dwarves who stand behind Thorin Oakenshield all arrive at Bilbo’s house and demand food and drink. The first dwarf to arrive, Dwalin, eats all of Bilbo’s personal dinner and an entire jar of what looks like scones or biscuits (hence the inspiration for the recipe below).

The entire scene following Dwalin’s arrival is a food-lover’s dream (or nightmare, if you’re worried about mythical creatures emptying your pantry and leaving you with nothing). The rest of the dwarves arrive for the planning of the upcoming adventure and they storm Bilbo’s pantry and take cheese, wine, vegetables, beer, cured meats and all sorts of wonderful things. The only thing I could think of the whole time is: ‘WHY?! WHY DON’T I HAVE A PANTRY THAT LOOKS LIKE THAT?!’

 

 

The scones below are nice because of the inclusion of sour cream. The sour cream allows for a texture that is somewhere between the normal biscuit texture of a scone and the inside of a muffin.

I’m not afraid to admit – the first time I made these scones, they didn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped. I actually had to make a second batch because my neuroses would not allow these scones to go public until I fixed them.  They were just too dry for my taste. The sour cream really does the trick.

There were a few other things I did differently the second time around as well: I didn’t overwork the dough, I worked in a quick manner (nothing stressful, just efficient) so that the butter could be as cold as possible before it went in the oven and I lowered the temperature of the oven. I started out at 400 degrees but for the second batch, I lowered it to 375 degrees. I also decided that hydrating the cherries is awesome because it gives you a flavor close to fresh cherries without all the juicy mess of actual fresh cherries. To be honest, you’d probably fine not hydrating them if you’re truly that lazy.

It just goes to show that cooking, no matter how long or often you do it, there is always something to learn. Furthermore, nothing feels quite so good as a recipe you’ve mastered.  At least – to me. I also am a Lord of the Rings nerd and think about things like perfect scone-cooking temperatures.

I have no life.

 

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Cherry Chocolate and Almond Scones

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 cups plus 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup of sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 lb (two sticks) of cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup of cold heavy cream
  • 1 tsp of almond extract
  • 1/2 cup of cold sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups of hot water
  • 1 cup of dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup of milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds
  • 1 egg beaten with tablespoons of cream or water for egg wash

Prep: 25 min

Yields: 15-19 scones

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

  1. In a small bowl, put your hot water and dried cherries together to hydrate while you work on your dough. (Sometimes I put a teaspoon of sugar or a small squeeze of honey in the water just give the cherries back some of their sweetness. Totally optional)
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the 4 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold, diced butter and using the pads of your fingertips,  pressing the butter into the flour, work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (You can also do this in a food processor but I’ve always liked doing it by hand so that some butter chunks remain large.)
  3. Combine the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and almond extract in another bowl. Slowly pour the liquids into the flour and butter mixture and mix until BARELY combined. *REMEMBER* Do not overwork the dough. You will cry.
  4. Drain the cherries well and mix them together with the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of flour. (This is to keep the ingredients from settling to the bottom of the scones) Combine with the dough until just combined.
  5. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form gently into a ball. Flour your rolling pin and hands and roll the dough to about 3/4-inch thick square. Move the dough constantly so that the dough doesn’t stick to your surface.
  6. With a floured knife, cut your square into smaller squares. 2015-11-18 11.19.35
  7. Then cut those squares diagonally across the middle so that you get two triangles.
  8. Place onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the triangles with your egg wash and sprinkle sugar and the sliced almonds on top.
  9. Cook for 17 minutes. The tops will brown slightly due to the sugar and the scones will be firm to the touch when done.

 

NOTES:

  • Seriously, don’t overwork the dough. Keep things as cold as you can. This means not taking out your sour cream, heavy cream and butter until right when you need it.
  • Work in a timely manner. Don’t stand around, on a coffee break or whatever because your butter in the dough will melt and you won’t get good scones. Tears will ensue.
  • Flour your rolling surface but don’t go crazy. Adding too much extra flour to the dough will most certainly make your scones tough.
  • Also, hydrate those cherries. It’s worth the extra iota of energy you will expend.
  • I chose milk chocolate chips because the creaminess works well with the tartness of the cherries and the smooth nuttiness of the almonds. If you’re one of those chocolate snobs who can’t bear the thought of anything less than 95% cocoa solids, be my guest. Does it help if I told you I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate? Classy stuff.

 

Pour yourself some tea and watch The Hobbit as you munch away, dreaming of a world where Second Breakfast and Elevensies exists.

Monday Musings

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I know. This is a food blog.

But…let’s take a moment a realize that food, along with many other entities in the world, are all interconnected with each other. How we interact with food or anything else can be very similar in other areas of the globe.

Yes, I want to talk about what happened in Paris.

But just briefly. I won’t inundate your brain with sad words and politically charged phrases. I just want to take a moment to pause and remember that life is sacred, the world is fragile and kindness becomes more and more scarce as I get older – at least it feels that way.

One of my favorite things about being obsessed with food and cooking is that I get to dote upon my loved ones. A meal is just a meal. Bread is just bread. Macaroni with four different types of cheese is just hot carbs (although glorious). The real magic is the love that is injected into the labor of cooking. The camaraderie that is found between slurps of steaming noodles. The heartfelt empathy that blooms over a glass of good wine.  My obsession and food in general would be nothing without that human connection.

I read another article on a different kind of love. The intimate kind that happens in a relationship. However, I think that the basis of the psychological study could apply anywhere.  It is a study done by psychologist John Gottman about the “Masters and Disasters” of love.

Gottman studied closely multiple relationships to see what made them work and, in short, found that at the very foundation of a relationship that lasts – it is kindness that keeps the ties strong.

“There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness.”

“But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

When it comes to food or worldly affairs, I think that it is often as simple as that. Kindness and generosity, though often more work than hate or anger or intolerance, is what keeps all of us connected, moving forward and happy.

We are thinking of you, Paris.

Furthermore – have a glass of wine with a friend while you learn to caramelize some onions. A very important skill, I always thought.

Or, be kind and generous to yourself by making this single, solitary, sensational pancake.

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BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches with Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread: The Best You Never Had

sandwich

So, let’s have it. Let’s hear every mistakenly negative thought you have pondered about “vegetarian” foods.

Firstly – may I say that many a people will have, at one point, may have thought I was a food snob. I violently disagree. You would shudder to hear me enumerate the fast food joints I lust over on a daily basis. I can get down and dirty with the worst of them.

Anyways, my point is – food is food. Vegetarian, unhealthy, too processed, carnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, keto and any other bullshit label you may have for food is unnecessary. Let us, instead, marvel at this wide and wondrous world of edible enticements and how lucky we are to have access to even half the food we do. All food in moderation is key (in my opinion). Food is magical. Food is all you need. Food.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

Just try it. It’s a great bbq pork substitute if you’re trying to cater to a picky vegetarian or just to serve as is. Put your adult underwear on and get over any prejudices you may have. This is just plain good.

Plus, this recipe has the added bonus of being fast to prepare. You’ll be ready to eat before the first excuse of why you shouldn’t cook even begins to form in your mind.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

If you’ve never had jackfruit before, it’s a fruit native to southeast Asia. You can buy it fresh and canned. The ripe, sweet version tastes somewhat like a heavenly cross between a mango and a lychee. Here, we will be using the young, unripe version that is canned in brine. You can find this cheaply at any Asian or ethnic grocery store.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 20oz cans of young, green jackfruit in brine

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For the BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce it is canned with
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup of ketchup
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 6-7 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread:

sauce

  • 1/2 cup of creamed corn (canned)
  • 1/2 a medium onion sliced thinly
  • 3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tblsps of honey
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Buns for building your sandwich. (I used those Hawaiian sweet rolls- the hamburger bun version. If you can, definitely use those as your buns. The sweetness of the bread makes the sandwich.)

The Jackfruit:

jackfruit

  1. Drain the canned jackfruit  in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Chop off the tough, middle core of each chunk.
  2. In a food processor, blend all of your ingredients for the bbq sauce together.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on a medium heat. Put in the drained and cored jackfruit in the pain and saute until the jackfruit browns a little, about 1-2 minutes of cooking.
  4. Pour the bbq sauce over the browned jackfruit and lower the heat to medium low and let simmer for about 35 minutes, or until the bbq sauce has reduced to about a fourth of the original volume.  Stir occasionally and break up the jackfruit as you stir so that it resembles pulled pork. The jackfruit will soak up all that saucy goodness. When finished, set aside.

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread

components

  1. While the jackfruit is simmering gloriously away, you can start on your corn and onion spread.
  2. In a skillet,  heat 3 tablespoons of oil at a medium-low heat. Put your thinly-sliced onions in the skillet with 1/4 a teaspoon of salt.
  3. Stir onions around constantly, making sure they do not burn in the pan. After about 10-12 minutes, the onions will be translucent and begin to darken to a brown in color. Make sure to constantly stir and scrape the bottom of your pan with your spatula to get up all those good, onion-y bits. If you see the onions beginning to dry out or burn, add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. You may add more balsamic vinegar later if you feel the need to.
  4. Near the 20-30 minute mark, the onions should be darker in color and will be done.
  5. In a food processor, put the honey, the creamed corn, a pinch of salt and pepper and the caramelized onions and blend together until a you have a well-blended, semi-lumpy spread. Contradiction of terms? Yes, I know. But corn kernels can be resistant to being completely pureed. This is okay. It still tastes beautiful.

Now, I understand that if you have never made caramelized onions before that the idea of spending anywhere NEAR 30 minutes stirring a pan of onions seems ludicrous. Especially after I prefaced this recipe as a “quick” one. Truth be told, you’re waiting and stirring the simmering pan of jackfruit in the bbq sauce and you might as well make an awesome sandwich spread while you wait.

Also – if you think caramelized onions are not worth the work, I don’t know if we can be friends.

Just kidding. We totally can. But, if you think the Lord of the Rings movies are too long, I can’t forgive you.

The Sandwich:

Do yourself a favor and butter and toast your sandwich buns.

Spread the corn spread generously. Heap the bbq jackfruit to the heavens, throw some pickles on there and plant your face into that sandwich.

Food and Movies: Labor Day and a Blueberry Honey Ricotta Tart

LaborDay

I know – it’s a weird choice for a movie associated with food. The actual plot line has nothing to do with food. Food certainly makes an appearance and it’s a memorable one, in my opinion.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin star in a strange story in which Kate is coerced into taking escaped convict Josh Brolin home with her so that he might hide out for a bit from the cops. Brolin is immediate and straightforward about his intentions not to harm Winslet and her son. He, in turn, offers to do things around the house  while he hides there for the night. Winslet and her son grow an odd attachment to Brolin (borderline Stockholm Syndrome…) and make excuses for him to stay throughout the Labor Day weekend.

Where food comes in to this story is when Brolin makes a few dishes for Winslet and her son as repayment for their cooperation. One distinct scene is where he teaches the both of them about pie-making. He is adamant that clean hands are a cook’s best tool and crust ingredients must be kept cold. It is clear that this pie-making exercise further sparks an attraction between Brolin and Winslet’s characters. With his gentle but direct guidance, he helps Kate’s character proceed assertively in handling the ripe peaches. He coaxes her to have confidence in shaping the pie crust. His fingertips graze hers and she is lost in an ethereal and sensual pie-making endeavor.

Sex and food? A combination that has endured through the ages. Don’t act surprised. Food and sex share so many inherent qualities, how could they not be thrown together? The full activation of senses and the instant gratification and pleasure from both acts of eating and intercourse are one in the same.

Pie was never so sexy until this scene:

With all this pie-talk, of COURSE I had to make some pie – or rather, some semblance of a pie.

Josh and Kate inspired me to make a Blueberry, Honey, Ricotta Tart.

WAIT. I know. You think ricotta is only for lasagna? Psshhh, please. You just don’t know what worlds I’m about to open for you.

Rarely do I preface a recipe in terms of difficulty. I never want to scare anyone away from making delicious food. So let me say this: there are three parts to this pie. DON’T BE DAUNTED. It’s worth it. You are the conqueror of worlds. You’ve totally got this. Plus – in the end, you get to enjoy a dessert that is rich and simultaneously light. The ricotta custard does not sit heavily in your stomach and the slight touch of orange in the creamy base will make your head foggy with delight. The tartness of the blueberry jam is softened by the inclusion of fresh blueberries.

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Part 1: The Crust 

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

Part 3: The Ricotta Custard Base

I firmly believe, as a home cook who is always looking to improve and learn different methods, that there are some recipes that just TEACH us things. This is one of those recipes. Roll your sleeves up and let’s do this.

The Crust:

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 Cup of Flour
  • 1 stick (8 tblsps) of butter, kept very cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/3 cup of ice water
  • 1/2 tsp of salt

(Makes one tart crust.)

Mix the salt into the ice water, set aside. (If you do not have an ice-maker at home or any available ice when you start this, I highly suggest you put this water and salt mixture in the freezer as you work the dough. The fact that it is ICE-COLD is incredibly important)

In a large bowl, put your flour and cold butter in and begin to work the butter into the flour. Use the pads of your thumbs and fingers to press and work the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles course crumbs.

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Once your mixture looks like course crumbs, pour the ice water/salt mixture one tablespoon at a time into the flour and butter until it just barely comes together in the bowl.

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Tip the contents of the bowl out onto a cutting board or whatever surface you prefer. Form into a ball and cover the ball in plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, flour your surface (lightly! don’t add too much flour or it will make the dough tough) and, with a rolling pin, roll out your dough to about 1/8 of an inch thin and gently press it into your greased and floured tart dish or pie dish. Cut off excess pie dough (and at this point I always put that excess pie dough in a small baking dish, sprinkle sugar over it and bake it for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. I devour the sugared pie crust pieces as I work.)

Put the tart crust back in the fridge while you make your Blueberry Compote.

Part 2: The Beautiful, Blueberry Compote

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pint of fresh blueberries (12oz total. I bought two 6oz containers at the grocery store)
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Pinch of Cinnamon
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 heaping tsp of cornstarch
  • 3 tblsp of cold tap water

In a medium saucepan, put half the amount of blueberries,  the sugar, honey, lemon juice salt and cinnamon and bring to a boil.

Once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat to a low-medium simmer. Let the sauce simmer and reduce for 10-11 minutes, reducing the liquid by about a third.

At the end of ten minutes, make a slurry – mix the cornstarch and cold water together and stir into the blueberry sauce and let it cook for 1-2 more minutes until the mixture thickens closer to a jam-like consistency.

Pour the thickened mixture in a bowl and set aside to let cool. Save the other half of the fresh blueberries for when the jam mixture has cooled. Work on the Ricotta Custard Base (YOU’RE ALMOST THERE. SOON YOU WILL EAT THE MOST GLORIOUS OF TARTS)

The Ricotta Custard Base:

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Large Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tblsps of orange juice
  • 1 tsp of orange zest

Preheat your oven to 350.

Set up a double boiler. Fill a medium saucepan a third of the way with water. Bring the water to a soft simmer and set a heat-proof bowl ( I always use a glass bowl) on top of the sauce pan.

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Put in your egg yolks, sugar and honey. Using a whisk, whisk the egg yolk mixture until the soft heat of the double boiler turns your egg yolks frothy and a pale yellow color. The consistency will be thick and creamy. The volume of the mixture will also increase slightly. This process will take 3-5 minutes. Do not walk away from this part. Your eggs will curdle so fast it’ll give you whiplash, if you neglect it.

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Once the eggs have become thick and creamy, take it off the double boiler and whisk in your orange juice, zest, and vanilla extract. Then gently fold in your ricotta cheese.

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All Together Now:

At this stage – take your tart crust out of the fridge and, with a fork, poke a few holes in the bottom of the crust so it doesn’t bake unevenly. Pour your ricotta mixture into the crust and bake in the pre-heated oven (350 degrees) for 16-18 minutes.

You will know that the custard is ready to come out of the oven if you give it a slight shake. The perimeter (the area of custard closest to the crust) will be firm and not jiggle. The middle will still jiggle slightly. There shouldn’t be too much color on top of the custard. It should still be a pale-yellow.

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Let the custard cool to room temperature (or if you’re impatient like me – you can stick it in the freezer to expedite the process).

Meanwhile, fold the rest of the fresh blueberries into the cooled blueberry compote.

Once the custard base has cooled, spread the blueberry mixture on top. It will seem like you’re struggling to cover the top of the tart with the blueberry compote but it will be enough. A little goes a long way here.

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Cut your slices wide, pour some coffee or tea to go with it, sit and relax your shoulders, breathe, and devour. In that order.

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What you learned:

Crust: EVERYTHING MUST BE COLD. I can’t stress that enough. The success and the flakiness of your crust will depend entirely on the coldness of the butter in the dough.

Compote: Lemon juice is key to bring out the flavors of the fruit. Without it, you would be left with a dull semblance of your sapphire blueberries.

Custard: It’s not that hard. It’s not that scary! Also, learning the double boiler method will set you up for  many other desserts. Specifically – tiramisu. Because – good lord, how can you not love tiramisu.

The Quintessential Strata

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“One learns, necessarily, to be gentle when acquiring omelet skills: a certain measure of sensitivity is needed…I have long believed it is only right and appropriate that before one sleeps with someone, one should be able – if called upon to do so – to make them a proper omelet in the morning. Surely that kind of civility and selflessness would be both good manners and good for the world.”

– Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

 

Eggs. EGGS. Eggs are good.

Do you like eggs? Are you one of those special people who find them disgusting? YA DEAD TO ME.

Just kidding. Sort of.

Anyways, whether you see eggs as delicious and the pinnacle of all things good or as gross and a discarded chicken period (too much?), there is no denying that eggs are a pivotal part of many recipes. They act as binding agents, leavening agents and tasty agents.

In this particular case, they act as all three and also as a way to use leftover bread. It is also a nifty way to incorporate some vegetables into my carb-heavy diet.

Also, there’s cheese. Cheese is also good.

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Basic Vegetable Strata:

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves 1 (additional serving options will be addressed at the bottom of the recipe)

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup of cubed-up bread (stale is preferred. If fresh, toast the bread a little bit in the oven until the exterior is golden. This will maximize egg-soaking abilities)
  • 1/2 cup of whatever vegetables you prefer. (In my strata, I used roasted cherry tomatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. Don’t judge. Bell peppers, onions, zucchini are all AWESOME options.)
  • 1/4 cup of the cheese of your choice (I used grated Parmesan)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • Salt and Pepper

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  1. Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put your vegetables and bread in your greased, individual loaf pan (or a large ramekin).
  3. Beat your eggs and milk together. Stir in half the amount of your grated cheese, salt and pepper into your egg mixture
  4. Pour the egg mixture over your vegetables and bread in your loaf pan and press down on the mixture with a fork. You want to ensure that the bread leeches up all that eggy goodness. At this point, make yourself a cup of coffee, read the newspaper – whatever. Do anything that lets you walk away from the uncooked strata for about 5 minutes. You want to let that sucker rest and let the egg seep into every pore of the bread cubes.
  5. After 5 minutes of seeping, top your strata with the rest of the grated cheese and put your cute, little strata in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.
  6. Take out of the oven, marvel at the melted cheese and the browned egg. Then eat. EAT.

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Optional Serving Suggestions:

I realize not everyone is insane like me and hoards miniature versions of cookery like loaf pans. If you want to make enough to share, I would follow the proportions below. That will make enough to fit in an 8 x 8 square baking dish.

  • 4 cups of cubed-up bread
  • 2 cup of whatever vegetables you prefer.
  • 1/2 cup of the cheese of your choice (I used grated Parmesan)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • Salt and Pepper

 

Chicken with Shallots and Tarragon

Let’s get fancy.

Except not.

I think there is this common misconception that recipes with words like “shallots” and “cream sauce” and “white wine reduction” has to be hard and time consuming. To be quite frank, understanding the ease and versatility of a basic sauce will make your life so much more exciting. I promise. You’ve got this.

If you’ve never had a shallot before, they are the onion’s milder cousin. They’re perfect for delicate sauces because they just don’t have that almost vulgar pungency that onions do. Sometimes you need vulgarity. Sometimes you need something more akin to Victorian modesty. That’s where shallots come in.

Also, before you start – give that fresh tarragon a hefty whiff. Have you ever smelled something so heavenly? Savory and almost licorice-like. You’re in for a treat.

Part 1: The Chicken

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts (near 2lbs total of chicken)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter for cooking

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

  1. Pat those breasts dry with a paper towel. You want a nice, crusty sear on the chicken when you cook. Wet breasts don’t help. (Yes, I know how that sounds.) Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet (12-inch is best) at a medium-high heat. I use both oil AND butter so that the butter doesn’t burn during the process and for a nice crust and flavor. Season the chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Place the chicken breasts in the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts) on each side. Try not to move the chicken too much so you can achieve that glorious, golden sear.
  3. Place the skillet in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until cooked through.

chicken

Part 2: The Sauce. The sinful, sensational, seriously salacious sauce.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of half and half cream
  • 2 medium shallots, sliced (which can be found in the onion section of your grocery store)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tablespoons of butter plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh tarragon
  1. Slice your shallots and mince your garlic. Have these ready for the skillet.
  2. Carefully remove the skillet with the chicken from the oven. Using tongs, place the chicken on a plate and cover loosely with foil.  Place the skillet back on top of the stove and turn to a medium heat and melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in all of the leftover chicken fats and juices in the skillet. (Yeah. The good stuff.)
  3. Once the butter has melted, put in your shallots and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until the shallots are translucent. Put in your white wine, lemon juice, mustard and let it simmer until it has reduced to about half the original volume. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and lift up all those wonderful, brown bits from the chicken. This part should take about 3-5 minutes on a low-medium simmer.
  4. Once the liquid has reduced, slowly pour in the half and half while stirring the sauce. Then the salt and pepper will go in. Make sure you season to taste. A sauce is nothing without good seasoning.  (If the liquid has reduced a little too much, add a little more wine or some spare chicken stock if you have it.) 
  5. Bring the sauce to a full boil. Once it reaches a boil, take it off the heat and slowly add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently so that the butter is fully incorporated. Luscious. So luscious.
  6. Stir one tablespoon of the chopped tarragon into the completed sauce. Spoon this ridiculous sauce over the resting chicken and bring out your inner Emeril Lagasse and yell “BAM” as you rain the rest of the chopped tarragon over your beautiful chicken.

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Enjoy.

Seriously. Rip into it like an animal. Or – be dainty about it. It is a fancy, white-wine reduction sauce after all.

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*These beautiful photos were done by the wonderful Elena. Check out her work at elenabertolo.com*