Sunday, January 16, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Mushroom Ragout


There’s an Italian restaurant near my apartment that I visit every few months which serves up basic, clean, well done food. Debate has ensued throughout the inter webs as to whether this restaurant is worthy of the praise it gets, but I’ll leave that up to each person’s individual preference; all I know is that I’ve loved every meal I had there, and that each time I visit and try something new, I’m always extremely satisfied with what I’ve ordered.

The last time I went to Gennaro’s, a few months ago, there was a new appetizer on the menu: creamy polenta with sauteed mushrooms and tomatoes drizzled with truffle oil.  It was sublime.  It possessed a rich, earthiness from the mushrooms and truffle oil, and was lightened slightly by the creamy, cheesy polenta bed on which the mushrooms lay.  To say that we happily finished the dish is an understatement; our dish was completely clean by the end of it.

Even though mushrooms over polenta is not a foreign combination and has been done many times before, I was intrigued enough about it to want to try a variation of the recipe at home.  Since I’d never personally made polenta, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to cook something out of my personal realm and see how it would turn out.  And, thankfully, the results were pretty good. 

Making polenta is a process.  The version I chose was from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which fellow blogger, Orangette, discusses in detail in one of her posts.

This polenta recipe will give you a bowl of warm goodness that turns out very well.  It’s creamy, heart warming, and, in a way, refreshing in its simplicity.  It doesn’t even need to be covered with the mushroom ragout that I made in order to be a delicious meal or accompaniment.  It’s sturdy and hearty on its own.

The recipe below yields a LOT of polenta, so if you’re not planning on feeding 4-6 people with it, I’d cut the recipe in half.  Otherwise you’ll have way too much and you might not know what to do with it.  The leftovers can be spread out on a lightly oiled sheet pan and baked, or you can put it back on the stove at another time and add a bit of water, cream, or butter to get it going again. (This will sort of take away the purity of the polenta, but I suppose it’s better than wasting the leftovers, if that’s your only other option.)

[cft format=0]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chocolate Pie

Baking around here doesn’t take place nearly as often as I would like it to.  Weeknights, as you all know, pretty much consist of coming home after a long day, perhaps going out again to take care of more business, cooking dinner, relaxing on the couch, and reading or watching TV to unwind.  (And, lately, I’ve added re-runs of this show to my ritual.)

So, Scott and I try to bake on the weekends together, and we each take turns picking a recipe to bake from.  A few weeks ago, we worked from a basic chocolate pie recipe, and it was simple and so decadent.  Due to time constraints, we cheated and used a pre-made crust, but the whole thing still tasted far better than we expected it to.  Scott suggested that he write up the recipe for this post, so here’s the story in his words:

“Picking a dessert to make around here is a big responsibility, and, even though I had a few days to think about what I wanted to make, I couldn’t choose between a pie or a tart or a cake. After putting off this important duty for an entire week, I ended up with exactly one hour to think of what to make and found myself standing in front of Whole Foods with my cell phone battery in the red, throwing a total Hail Mary. I googled “Chocolate Pie” and the first hit I found was Bev’s Chocolate Pie on Needless to say, I was worried about how this would all turn out. I didn’t know Bev. But I didn’t have time to doubt her.

I nabbed the ingredients, which were surprisingly few – especially if you cheat like we did and get a pre-made crust.  The recipe was surprisingly simple to put together. We just mixed all the ingredients, and then poured the mixture into the pie crust.
Despite my desperation, this dessert turned out really well! I absolutely recommend it as a quick and easy dessert, and it can be topped with just about anything! We ate it with fresh strawberries and it was perfect. It could also be topped with whipped cream, some vanilla ice cream, or pretty much any fresh fruit. Just make sure to chill the pie in the fridge before eating it. It is undeniably better when chilled!”

[cft format=0]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Restaurants: Tiffin Wallah

Manhattanites might know that a small portion of the Murray Hill neighborhood in New York City is also known as “Curry Hill” because of the large concentration of Indian restaurants and specialized grocery stores there.  It’s also home of this famous shop that sells a vast array of spices and other unique cooking items.

But the main attraction in Curry Hill is the restaurants, and one that has a very good reputation is Tiffin Wallah, a small, unassuming and unadorned restaurant with fabulous Southern Indian vegetarian food for extremely reasonable prices.

Tiffin Wallah is the sort of restaurant you might completely pass if you’re not exactly sure where it is.  It’s no frills, too, but rather, all about the food.  And that’s a very good thing, because the food is thoughtfully prepared and full of the bright, deep flavors we’ve grown to love in South Asian cooking. Chances are, if you visit on the weekend, you’ll endure a long wait outside during which you’ll become ravenously hungry and peruse the menu more times than you care to while staring intently into the restaurant and watching the beautiful food being delivered to the closest tables.

Once you’re seated and ready to go,  consider the samosa chaat, an appetizer with samosas, tamarind sauce, raita, cilantro, and a sweet and spicy sauce, which has many different flavors and textures and works so well.  The heat from the samosas is off-set by the creamy, cool yogurt, and the tamarind sauce offers sweet, rich undertones.  The samosas are not soggy or too hard to chew; they’re perfectly toothsome and filled with bite sized potatoes and vegetables.

(samosa chaat)

The malai kofta dumplings are as big as baseballs, which is a preparation that I haven’t seen often, but which is still very good.  Their crispy exteriors make way for soft, chewy cheese and vegetable interiors and the whole thing is topped with a sweet, creamy tomato based curry sauce.  The entrée winner is the matar paneer, though.  Tender, sweet peas are strewn among soft paneer cubes and it all sits in a stewed tomato curry sauce that is spicy, bold, and tinged with a hint of cream.  It’s delectable and quite filling.

(front: matar paneer, back: malai kofta and side of rice)

Tiffin Wallah also serves dosas, huge rice and lentil pancakes with different fillings inside.  We chose the masala dosa which had seasoned mashed potatoes inside.  The dosa was paper-thin with crisp edges, and a soft, chewy middle.  The potato filling was spiced well, and the mashed potatoes were still chunky enough to have a contrasting texture to the smooth dosa.

(masala dosa)

My meat-eating companion didn’t complain once that the restaurant was vegetarian.  The hearty dishes and bold flavors are uniquely satisfying to the point where you don’t dream of chicken tikka masala at all.  You merely sit, enjoy the experience around you, and savor each and every sublime bite of your meal.

Tiffin Wallah
127 East 28th Street
New York, NY 10016
Subway: 6 to 28th Street/Lexington Avenue

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Spicy Roasted Broccoli

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year’s celebration and that 2011 is starting off in the right direction.

I don’t know about you, but I really over indulged in the week between Christmas and New Year’s and on other random December days due to holiday parties and overall merriment.  I guess that’s not such a bad thing, because it all was rather enjoyable, but after coaxing my jeans onto my body for a little too long last weekend, I knew it was time to get back to reality yesterday. 

That’s why I’m sharing an easy, healthy, and rather delicious recipe in this first post of the New Year.  Even if your goal isn’t to be on a diet, per se, adding this light dish as part of dinner one night couldn’t possibly do you any harm. Right?

Roasting vegetables to the point of caramelization is one of my favorite things to do these days.  (especially when brussels sprouts are involved!) This particular roasted broccoli comes out so delicious, and it might even help you see broccoli in a whole new, very appealing, light.  Enjoy!

[cft format=0]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top Things I Ate in 2010

I’m going to be honest with you: I can’t wait for 2011.  This year has been an important one for my books, but it certainly took a lot out of me.  It wasn’t always pretty, but I really learned a great deal about myself, about life, about living, about pretty much everything. I never really knew what the quote “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” meant, but now I think I do.

I learned that choices aren’t always easy to make and that no matter what option we choose, we won’t please everyone.  I learned that rejection hurts.  And that moving past rejection is hard, but is really, very necessary.  I learned that things are merely things, so when someone steals those things from you, you can’t get caught up in the fact that your things are gone; defining ourselves by our things reduces us.  I learned not to take good health for granted.

I also learned, on a more positive note, that love and living and family and food and friends and experiences are the most important things we could ever have.  And we should do whatever we can to maintain those things and nurture the relationships we have.  I also learned, with difficulty, to see the GOOD in every person and every situation because even though it might not seem possible, it is most definitely there.  Oh.  And I learned that travel, music and art is magical.  Absolutely magical.

Now, enough of that stuff.

On a more gastronomical level, I’m so happy to look back on some of the crazy good, palate tingling things I ate this year, and I’d love to share them with you.  In chronological order of experience:

1. Chocolate chip walnut cookie from Levain Bakery(NYC)

2. Goat cheese tortelloni (and the entire pasta tasting menu) from Babbo(NYC)

3. Fish tacos from Taco Taco (NYC)

4. Cheese with truffle honey from Otto (NYC)

5. Olive oil gelato from Otto (NYC)

6. Balthazar Salad from Balthazar (NYC)

7. Vegetable thali from Quilon(London)

8. Goat cheese and spinach galette from Creperie Suzette(Paris)

9. Heirloom tomato salad from Bistro Paul Bert (Paris)

10. Croissant from Miss Manon(Paris)

11. French fries from Cafe des Musees(Paris)

12. Baguette from Eric Kayser (Paris)

13. Pistachio macaron from Laduree(Paris)

14. Falafel sandwich from L’As du Falafel (Paris)

15. Dulce de Leche filled churros from Camden Lock(London)

16. Tofu & vegetable red curry from Land Thai (NYC)

17. Malai Kofta from Taste of India (West Hartford, CT)

18. Harissa falafel sandwich from Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar (NYC)

19. Broccoli soup at Jean-Georges (NYC)

20. Square pizza from DiFara Pizza(Brooklyn, NY)

21. Squash soup with brussels sprouts from Gramercy Tavern(NYC)

I hope that all of you ring in 2011 tonight with good food, a nice, tall glass of champagne, friends, family, and all of the hopefulness that the new year brings. Cheers!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Peppermint Bark

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  Mine was really lovely.  We spent Christmas Eve with family at my grandma’s house where we ate, drank, open presents, and had the chance to catch up.  On Christmas, my parents, brothers and I opened presents, and then we had my mom’s parents over for dinner. 

One of my goals for the past few weeks, and for Christmas, too, has been to remain present in every day activities.  That might seem like a pretty simple concept; you’re existing at every moment in your life, so you must be feeling that moment, and living that moment, and being aware of that moment, right?  Well, not so much for me, and for many of us, apparently.  I read an article last month that discussed happiness and mind wandering, and how physically being in a certain place at a certain time doesn’t really make a difference if your mind is somewhere else.  I completely understood what the study was meant to show.  I am a huge worrier, I stress about many things, and sometimes when I’m doing something that even I would consider enjoyable, the fact that my mind is wandering somewhere else makes me look back on that activity and think, “Was I really there?  Why wasn’t I able to enjoy it?”  So, some self-reflection was definitely in order.  And I’ve been trying to work on this issue, and others, and it’s all been quite eye-opening (and a bit frightening, too). 

So, I was really able to enjoy the holiday, take it in stride, appreciate each moment and the beauty of what I was experiencing, and look back with happiness with how the day was spent.

And, of course, happiness can also be enhanced by chocolate, right?  Right.  So, after our dinner (which consisted of clam dip, vegan stuffed shells, butternut squash gratin, candied yams, maple crusted brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe with pignoli nuts and dried cranberries and a whole slew of Christmas cookies and desserts) we indulged in a peppermint bark from Bon Appetit magazine that I found on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, two years ago that I’ve made a few times before.  This stuff totally beats anything you can buy in a box, and is also really, refreshingly good.  It’s the perfect sweet to give away to friends or to snack on after a big Christmas dinner.  It would be perfect for a New Year’s Eve celebration, too.

Usually when I make this recipe, the amount of time it advises that the bark spends in the refrigerator is pretty accurate but this time, for some reason, it wound up not setting right and the layers kind of blended together.  It wasn’t the biggest deal, but it didn’t look as clean as I would’ve liked it to.

The great part about this bark is that it’s sweet without being overpowering.  The peppermint is the star, but not so much so that you feel you need to rinse your mouth out before eating something else.  You can keep this bark for about 2 weeks, and it will stay well.  If you’re adding it to a cookie platter of sorts, you might want to separate the bark from the other things with waxed paper just so that everything doesn’t taste like peppermint.

[cft format=0]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!!  There’s so much to celebrate this year and so much for which to be grateful.  I’ve enjoyed this season so much; it’s easy to let it creep up and to get overwhelmed by the whole thing, which is what I usually do, but this year, I really feel that I tried my best to appreciate the spirit of Christmas.  The music, the baking, the decorating, the good cheer, the gratitude and the generosity have really made this past month very happy and very merry.

As I looked under the tree this morning at the crazy amount of presents that awaited us, I felt excitement, but I felt sadness too; so many are without anything this Christmas.  They don’t have presents, and they don’t have a nice meal to eat with families tonight.  Thinking about all that I have and knowing that all my friends and relatives are without need or want makes me incredibly grateful.

Enjoy this day with your family and friends.  Eat, drink and be merry!!

Jett, Lulu & Shea wish you all a Merry Christmas, too  :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cranberry Shortbread Bars

The concept of baking is rather new to me.  Until about a year ago, the only baking I did involved chocolate chip cookies, simple chocolate layer cakes (boxed!), brownies (also boxed!  what a confession…), and maybe something frisky like peppermint bark or pignoli cookies from time to time. Now that I’ve started this blog and made more lofty baking and cooking goals for myself, though, it’s been an interesting adventure to attempt new things that I never thought I’d make myself.

One of these recent new dessert ventures wasn’t even difficult, but it was out of my realm of interest and past experience.  The item in question results in shortbread and cranberry sauce practically fused together, with an unimaginably gooey texture, and a sweet, but sophisticated flavor that doesn’t overwhelm with sweetness. The shortbread, with a fairly high concentration of butter, is flaky and rich, and the gloriously red, jam-like cranberry sauce interior is bold (without overpowering the shortbread, though) and begs to be devoured.  Let’s face it, I didn’t choose this recipe.  It picked me. After so many bloggers who participate in Tuesdays with Dorie featured this recipe on their blogs and raved, raved, raved about it, I had no other choice; I had to make this thing, or forever wonder what I missed.

I actually wish I had discovered this before Thanksgiving, because it would’ve made the perfect addition to our holiday table. It’s festive without being too hokey, and is a great way to incorporate cranberry sauce, a usual Thanksgiving favorite, into the meal in a different way.

The outcome of this “cake” is largely up to you.  There are different variations as to how you can put together the shortbread and cranberry filling, and while you can certainly make it a round cake and cut it into pie-like pieces, I decided I wanted mine to be “bars.”  I don’t currently own a rolling pin (ouch…I know…), so my top was a bit more marbled than I would’ve hoped, but in the end, it had a rustic, homemade look that was actually sort of appealing.

The more these bars sat, the better they were.  They were so, deliciously gooey after a few days.  I froze the leftovers for a week, and they were still great after a few seconds in the microwave. 

[cft format=0]

Friday, December 17, 2010

Braised Kale with Tomatoes

The word “kale” hasn’t always been a good one in my vocabulary.  Too often, it represented a thick, dark green, rubbery, flavorless mess of a vegetable that didn’t seem to fit anywhere, with any other food, on any sort of plate, for any edible purpose.

Kale gets a bad rap because when it’s not cooked carefully and with an idea of what the texture and flavor needs to be like in order for this vegetable to really show itself, it can be pretty gnarly and awful.  When cooked properly, though, kale is sweet, deep, earthy, and exciting.  (Maybe not as exciting as the cookie dough truffles from my last post, but still, exciting as a dark green vegetable can be.)

This recipe is one that I pulled out of a recent Food & Wine issue.  It really made me curious, especially because one of the ingredients, a jalapeno, didn’t initially seem like the best kale pairing out there.  It turns out that there’s a depth of flavor, and a subtle zing from the jalapeno that makes this kale surprisingly tasty.  It makes a perfect side dish with some baked fish or simple pasta, and can even be served as a main with couscous or some crusty garlic bread.  Oh, and last thing, the recipe suggests you can use any dark, leafy green, but when I tried this with swiss chard, I didn’t like it at all; the vegetable didn’t hold up well in the cooking and didn’t stand up to the other flavors well.  Perhaps if you cook other dark greens for a shorter amount of time than the recipe states, they’ll turn out better.

[cft format=0]

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

I’ve finally found a guaranteed way to make (and keep) friends that requires minimal effort, a negligible amount of money, and a short while in the kitchen.

The answer?  Chocolate chip cookie dough truffles.  Yes, you heard me, unbaked cookie dough (!!!!!!!!!!) covered in chocolate.

The first time I made these, I brought some extras to work for my buds to try.  By 8:30AM they were happily devoured, and for the following week, I was pretty popular around there.  Unfortunately, this love has worn off, and now everyone bugs me about bringing more baked goods to work.  The nerve!!!  (Oh, I’m kidding. I love those people, it’s all in good fun.)

At first, I was afraid that the raw cookie dough would be a health hazard, but, because there are no eggs involved, the batter is perfectly safe for consumption without being cooked.* The truffle component adds a bit of elegance to what we would normally deem to be a rather unfussy cookie dough.  Chocolate chip cookies are widely popular, and aren’t usually considered special. (unless you make them like THIS!)

These will fit perfectly on your holiday dessert table, or as a sweet gift to hand out to friends.  Be warned, though, they are highly addicting, and you might get the urge to make them multiple times in one week (that’s experience talking.)

*By perfectly safe, I’m talking about not being at risk for food borne illnesses.  Do not attempt to eat a whole batch of these in one sitting, as tempting as that might be.  Otherwise you’ll be talking about an extremely hazardous situation in the form of severe stomach pains!

[cft format=0]