Saturday, April 23, 2011

I'll Bring the Batter

Our friends in the country have a terrific waffle machine that cooks waffles to perfection every time. I have three sourdoughs in the fridge that I have to feed every week. I hate discarding the cups of sourdough, so I always end up making something or bringing a little something everywhere I go. This weekend, I volunteered to bring the waffle batter for some waffle perfection.

I found this recipe on the King Arthur website. We totally forgot to pick up buttermilk on the way out of the city, so I warily substituted light cream. The waffles turned out insanely light and tasty. We're considering using the leftovers to make some savory waffles with leftover ham for tomorrow's lunch.

Sourdough Waffles

Overnight Sponge

2 cups white flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups buttermilk (or light cream)
1 cup sourdough starter, straight from the fridge (not fed)

Waffle Batter

All of the overnight sponge
2 large eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

To make the overnight sponge, stir your sourdough starter and take out a cup. Feed your starter and place back in the fridge. Stir together the starter, flour, sugar, an milk. Cover and let rest at room temperature overnight.

The next morning stir the remaining ingredients into the sponge. Pour into your waffle iron according to instructions and serve immediately once done, with butter and syrup.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gypsytized Chicken Piccata

Chicken piccata was on the menu tonite, but I defrosted bone-in chicken breasts instead of boneless, and D told me that if I used bone-in chicken breasts, it wouldn't be chicken piccata. So all day, I was thinking about what I could do with these chicken breasts that would be piccata-like. I already knew I wanted to use olives and mushrooms, so this is how I made it. Several epicurious recipes for chicken piccata inspired this, but I didn't use a recipe while I was cooking.

Chicken Piccata Gypsy-Style

2 bone-in chicken breasts
1 lemon
10 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno pepper
10 olives
10 cremini mushrooms
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp cornstarch
handful of capers
2 tbsp parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil

Coat chicken breasts with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Slice the lemon into thin slices and secure three slices with a garlic clove on top of each one with toothpicks. Bake in the oven at about 350 degrees for about a half an hour to 45 minutes, or until done.

While the chicken breasts are cooking, slice the onion into thin slices, and finely chop the garlic and jalapeno. Sautee these three ingredients in olive oil until starting to brown; add sliced creminis and halved pitted olives (I used green and a few black ones). Make your broth and mix with 2 tsp cornstarch. When everything is nice and browned, add the liquids (broth combined with cornstarch, wine, lemon juice) and reduce until the sauce is nice and thick.

When the chicken breasts are cooked through, remove the chicken from the bone and shred into the sauce (truth be told, the breasts were so big--no laughing--that I only used the meat from one of them and froze the other). The garlic was just for show--and a quick snack. We just ate the roasted garlic right off the lemon slices when the chicken came out of the oven. Finish the sauce with a handful of rinsed capers and parsley. I served this over spinach pasta. It was outrageously delicious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My New Favorite Sandwich

Last summer, my friend Sue invited me to go hear a string quartet she knew called Ethel at an outdoor venue at Lincoln Center. I rushed from work downtown, and didn't have the time to stop for a snack before and had the munchies when I arrived. Sue shared half of her sandwich with me: apples and brie on a french baguette. I knew I had to make it again for myself, so I did.

How to do it: Start with a quality french baguette, crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Spread a little mayo on one half, whole-grain mustard on the other. Line with apple slices, pieces of brie, and then fill with sprouts. I used pink lady apples, but any crisp, partly sweet/partly tart apple will work. It's actually better if it sits for a while, so it's perfect to wrap it up tight in some plastic and popping it in your bag to take to work. Yum.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Bronx Find

The organization I work for hosted a series of lunches for defense attorneys in four different cities across New York State to discuss the implementation of a drug law reform measure that passed in 2009. I wanted the luncheons to be something special, but defense attorneys in Buffalo and Rochester weren't very imaginative; we had sandwiches from a (nice) deli in Buffalo, but the Rochester lawyers opted for simple pepperoni pizza. When the luncheon for the Bronx lawyers came up, I posted a request on my Facebook page for some suggestions for a good restaurant nearby. Almost immediately, a friend responded by putting me in touch with a lawyer who happened to work for the organization I was visiting (but in a different department). He said: hands down, Coqui Mexicano. I visited the website and could tell from the menu that this place was a winner.

After agonizing over the menu, and deciding that I'd have to pitch in some bucks for extra food so I could bring home dinner, I called Diego and explained the plan. I was a little worried when he said that their catering menu was different, but not posted on the web, but ultimately, I just told him what I wanted in general and the amount of money that I wanted to spend.

It just so happened that D and I were traveling in the same direction the day of the luncheon, and so we decided to drive up to the Bronx and have a quick lunch together before the luncheon. (I knew that because I was speaking and asking a bunch of questions and taking notes during the luncheon that I wouldn't be able to eat during the meeting.) When we arrived, Diego seemed a bit frazzled, and worried aloud that the avocados weren't really ripe enough yet. The place was not very busy, just a few folks talking leisurely over some food in the brightly-colored dining room. Diego suggested the beef stew, which D ordered--but I knew I wanted a Cubano. I'm not a big Cubano fan, but for some reason, I wanted to try his. I'm so glad I did. Thinly sliced ham, pernil, pickle, and mayo, and a very tasty cheese on a soft roll. He conversed with us while we ate, asking if everything was alright ("some people make crusty Cubanos, I like mine like this. You like it?" I did.)

After giving the avocados a few more squeezes, he excused himself and set off at a quick trot down the street and around the corner--presumably in search of more ripe avocados for the guacamole we'd ordered for the luncheon. Watching him run down the street, I noticed an amazingly ornate, but run-down, building across the street--it was the old Bronx County Courthouse. Now covered in unartistic graffiti and grime, it appeared to be a sad symbol of a neighborhood in decline. But D told me that the owner recently sold it to a charter school, so (notwithstanding concerns about charter schools!) maybe someday soon, the beautiful architecture will shine on the block again. You can see the building in the background of the picture above, but some dude actually took photos of the inside and outside of the building and posted them on his blog, Satan's Laundromat.

Before D and I left to head over to the luncheon, I ordered a piece of Budin de Maiz, a sweet cornbread pudding with raisins, cinnamon, & grated coconut for a snack later that day. It was delicious. As the menu said, it's great for breakfast with coffee, or a dessert. I'll have it anytime, thank you.

When Diego delivered the spread for the luncheon a half an hour later, the lawyers greeted him like an old friend. I didn't know until later that about a year ago, when Coqui was struggling in the neighborhood, the legal services office organized a fundraiser to keep them in business. The bonds are tight between the organization and the restaurant. This article explains the story of Coqui Mexicano and why it's so special in the neighborhood.

I ordered a taco platter with pernil, warm corn tortillas, ricanized couscous salad, guacamole, escabeche de gandules, and five Cubanos. Diego apologized because he didn't bring as much as I ordered because he didn't want to use the under-ripe avocados, which was VERY COOL. He brought the chayote salad as a substitute--I have to admit, I didn't order it because I didn't know what it would be like, but it was outstanding. The lawyers enjoyed the food, the meeting was a success, and I brought some leftovers home so that D and I could taste the whole range of food from the place. I owe Diego a big, warm thank you for his thoughtful preparation of the food. I only wish I had more occasion to go to the Bronx--this would be my go-to place.

Photos courtesy of Welcome2Melrose blog, and The Daily News.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Few of Our Favorite Things

Jess and I hadn't seen each other since my wedding nearly nine months before, so when she made the suggestion out of the blue that we meet for a light dinner at a new Moroccan restaurant on the Lower East Side because she'd purchased a Groupon for it, I readily agreed. We went to Zerza in the East Village and I ordered merguez sausage in a tomato sauce with poached eggs that was absolutely delicious. Two of D's favorite things are eggs and merguez, so I knew he would love this dish. I found this recipe from a blog called Food52 for the dish and made it at home. We served it with a side of sauteed dandelion greens. The bitter of the greens was tempered by really nice olive oil and garlic, and it was perfect with the spicy tomato sauce. I had two types of harissa on hand: one from our friend Samir who is originally from Tunisia, the other (less hot) from a local Middle Eastern restaurant. If the sauce is spicy enough, you won't even want to use the harissa. The cilantro is really key, though, to cut the heat.

Moroccan Merguez Ragout with Poached Eggs

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, small dice
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 pound merguez sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon ras el hanout*
1 teaspoon Spanish sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 15-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen
8 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro, stems included
2 tablespoons harissa, see note above
warm crusty bread, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden. Toss in the garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the merguez and sauté until almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the ras el hanout, Spanish smoked paprika and salt. Stir to combine and cook for a minute to lightly toast the spices. Add the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium and cook until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Crack the eggs over the mixture, cover and cook until the whites set, but the yolks are still soft. Divide the eggs and ragout among four warm bowls using a large spoon. Top with a sprinkling of cilantro and a teaspoon of Harissa. Serve immediately with crusty bread.

Ras el Hanout is totally simple to assemble if you have all of the spices. Layering the spices into the jar, the end result looks like a North African desert bathed in a sunset. I shook it to combine the spices before using it in the recipe.

Ras El Hanout

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves