Spring Cleaning

March 31, 2010

No, this wasn’t a mustard tasting. This was just another reminder of how badly I needed to clean out the fridge. Call it spring cleaning if you’d like, but it’s been long over due. Luckily long gone are the days spent gasping at what was capable of growing on my leftovers and produce. I haven’t discovered some antimicrobial silver bullet, but I have stopped buying so many damn groceries. I used to stock the fridge with weekly shopping trips only to find myself trashing a bunch or forgetting what I had, and either way ending up with a bunch of boring dinners. Daily shopping trips may not be convenient for some but it keeps my spending and waste down and ensures my dinners have some creativity to them. This methodology hasn’t helped everything however… as there is never a need for four mostly empty bottles of mustard…

Along with my “spring” cleaning, I came to another realization: I have to start making my own breakfast. I’m generally out the door at 7:20 and unfortunately I’m just not that hungry then. But the amount of money I’ve been pumping into Dishes in Grand Central Station is a bit absurd. Oh yeah, and I hate anything overtly sweet during breakfast. Enter whole wheat cheddar cheese scones!

I’ve been wanting to make my own scones for a while now because I think they combine everything I love about a muffin and a biscuit; neither of which I’m all that into for an everyday breakfast. These scones are delicious with a bit of fruit preserves or even with just a little butter. The cheddar adds a bit of richness and some savory flavor but next time I’m definitely going to dial in a bit more flavor. Maybe a few diced up apples or even a bit of jalapeno. Either way, these are cheap and portable and the perfect solution to my breakfast concerns.

What about you? What do you fuel up on in the morning?


I Now Call Chicken Stock to the Stand…

March 30, 2010

If a trial lawyer was going to make a case for home cooking being the fundamental source of healthy eating and real nutrition, chicken stock would be the star witness. For close to a katrillion years, meat and vegetables have been added to water, simmered and used for a multitude of food applications; soups, stews, rice dishes and more have all been getting packed with flavor and essential nutrients from these stocks and broths. But like most of our food innovations, boxed stock has changed the game. Convenience at least for now, is king. But nothing can stand up to a homemade version. And when you realize how simple it is, and just how lucrative the process can be, you won’t even have to factor in the health benefits to be convinced.

As Jamie Oliver attempts to show in his “Food Revolution”, being aware of how your food is made, and where it comes from is the crux of healthy eating. It’s not that I won’t eat McDonald’s chicken nuggets. I’m not nuts! But since seeing how they were made, I’ve certainly eaten less of them. Well, when you take your whole chicken (try and buy the local, free roaming bird for flavor if nothing else), along with the essential aromatics (onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and parsley), cover with cold water in a soup pot and bring to a simmer, there is no question where your stock is coming from.

And it’s the ultimate Sunday task. You can set this up in a matter of minutes and let it go on med/low heat. I have found that the best broth comes from the following. After an hour of simmering, remove the chicken and pull the meat off with two forks. You will be thrilled when you see how much meat you have for future meals: chicken salad, quesadillas,  pasta dishes, etc. Throw the bones back into the pot and simmer for a few more hours. Strain the stock and throw it in the fridge, sealed and ready to be used.

I’m saving the bulk of my stock for my favorite chicken soup (I’ll be posting later this week), but it’s just amazing how much you will have to work with. And when you break down the $15 dollars worth of ingredients, the price compared to the boxed variety is just about the same/volume. Plus you’ll love how many ways you find to use it. Case in point:  I used my stock for this amazing Paella later that night. Some of the shredded chicken meat along with a handful of clams and bunch of veggies was all it took for this amazing one pot rice dish. But it was the homemade stock that pushed this meal over the top. The flavor was just unbeatable.

So what’s the point? Well, there are many ways to become more connected with your food. And there may not be a better way than making homemade chicken stock.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

March 29, 2010

This weekend I caught my first glimspe of the new ABC reality series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. There has been a reasonable amount of hype surrounding the show but for those of you who haven’t heard of it, this is the basic premise. Jamie Oliver, a recent TED prize recipient and famous chef, has taken it upon himself to change the way our country eats, starting with “the fattest town in the country”, Huntington WV. With a major focus on the current school systems inability to provide healthy meals, along with the collapse of the family meal back in our homes, Jamie is set on changing the game. But even with similar successes achieved in the UK, his approach and beliefs will surely be challenged.

Bottom line. This is a reality show. Therefore their isn’t a lack of drama. But after only two episodes I can tell you this show is worth watching. I have always been a huge fan of Jamie’s cooking style. Thumb through his cookbooks next time you are in the book store. He’s not preaching health food in the way we’ve been programmed to think about it. It’s not a “eat this, not that” approach but rather a “eat fresh, and homecooked” approach. To him, it’s about getting rid of the processed food, getting back into the kitchen, and taking control of the terrible health situation that we as a country are facing. I couldn’t agree more…

For me there were two seriously impactful moments within the first two episodes. Like I said, this is reality TV so let’s not forget that. But, when Jamie takes one particular family under his wing, he’s taken aback at the weekly intake of food. This scene has been on the trailer and commercials leading up to the show. He and the mother prepare a week’s worth of frozen pizzas, corn dogs, nachos, nuggets, waffles and much more and place it all on the table. The shear volume of food is enough to make anyone gag. And when Jamie points out the overwhelming color of the food is brown, you realize this family needs some serious help. The other major head scratching moment happened when Jamie had the opportunity to teach a 1st grade class. One by one, he asked the kids what a number of different vegetables were. Eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, beets…you name it and these kids had no idea. When he suggested that french fries came from potatoes, the looks of bewilderment filled the room.

Again, I know this is reality tv, but the principles being discussed are truly at the heart the problem. I’m looking forward to following the show’s progress along with supporting the revolution from a distance. Having grown up with a teacher (now an elementary school principle) as a Mom, the connection between good food choices and our schools seriously hits home. And despite the show’s fairly frequent and somber revelations, it is easy to be inspired. Inspired that we have the abililty to make choices that seriously impact our health, and the health of those we care about.

Now enough with my rant…more delicious food to come…

In Desperate Need of a Burger

March 26, 2010

Ever since our plane touched down at JFK on our way back from Culebra, I’ve been craving a burger. The question has been…where to get one? Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know NYC has become overrun with burger enthusiasts. Burger joints have been popping up all over while the NY classics continue to get more press. Whether you sware by Shake Shack or prefer the Pat LaFrieda blended black label burger at the Minetta Tavern, it’s easy to agree on why we love burgers. So I did what I always do when I’m faced with a restaurant decision dilemna…I made my own.

One of the most overlooked pieces to having a tiny kitchen, particularly in NY, is ventilation. So in order to cook a good burger in-house, you need solid air flow. Otherwise your neighbors will be calling 911 for fear of the constantly ringing fire alarm. I’ve pretty much mastered this issue however. Windows open, and hand towel waving station set, smoke is no longer the problem.

The other big question for home cooking burgers, at least for me, has always been what the hell to cook them in. Standard pans never seem to do the trick and cast iron can be a bit hard to monitor. Unless your cooking thinner patties, it is easy to end up with a blackened crust and a rare center; not exactly burger perfection. Luckily for me I’ve found the perfect solution. This Mario Batali grill pan with press (another great holiday gift) manages to produce an exceptional burger.

Great, right? But what about the taste…Well, over the years I’ve seriously changed my approach to flavoring my burger, including bun choice and toppings. I used to add a number of seasonings, raw or cooked onions, and even sauces to the meat itself before cooking. Those were not burgers. Those were meatloaf patties. My current recipe: 85/15 ground grass-fed beef (no substitute), salt, pepper. That is it. The flavor of the meat is phenomenal when cooked this way, particularly when paired with a few choice toppings. In this case, melted sharp cheddar cheese, butter leaf lettuce, and a slathering of pesto mayo (I used that broccoli and arugula pesto!) all crammed between a toasted english muffin, by far the best bun available. The english muffin manages to soak in the juices of the burger (Nooks and Crannies!) without getting soggy while adding way more flavor than any potato roll or burger bun.  This burger was amazing!

But what’s a burger without great sides. I paired my burger with another version of that bean salad I have been working on. This one had black beans, red beans, and leeks all pulled together by a bit more of that pesto and red wine vinegar. This may be the easiest side dish ever. For those of you who aren’t big into cooking but need to bring a side dish to a dinner party, this is the one. Also on the plate was a simple slaw I made by shredding (thanks to the food processor) red cabbage and broccoli. This may be reason enough to purchase a food processor, particularly if you have picky kids. Shred just about any vegetable and whether you use it in a slaw or pretty much anything else, you’ll be sure to sneak in some nutrition. My slaw was rounded out with a handful of raisins and a simple dressing of apple cider vinegar and a bit of mayo.

So did I quench my burger craving? You better believe it as this was certainly the best burger I had ever made. And I know I’ve been saying “the best I’ve ever made” a whole lot recently but this can only mean one thing. Okay well maybe two things. But having an insane ego isn’t on my to-do list. So it must mean my vacation did exactly what I intended it to do. Enjoy the weekend!

Sunday Supper: Low and Slow

March 25, 2010

No, I haven’t gone crazy. I know last night wasn’t Sunday. But the old adage that soups and stews taste better after a day or two in the fridge  is undeniably true. So sometimes Sunday Supper is served best a few days late.

One of my all time favorite comfort foods is my Mom’s braised brisket. And honestly, if you’d ask for the recipe she probably couldn’t give you one. Sometimes preparing a dish becomes second nature and trust me, her version is fantastic. But recipe or not, there is one crucial rule with brisket. Whether we’re talking perfectly smoked bbq brisket or the melt apart braised brisket, there is only one way to cook it…low and slow.

And low and slow is exactly what makes a Sunday Wednesday Supper so great. Because after hours and hours of cooking, your house tiny apartment is filled with deliciously tantalizing meat perfume; it was tough not to eat this on Sunday. My brisket was braised in a sauce made with fire roasted tomatoes, red wine, leeks, and poblano peppers. The peppers added a bit of heat and created a slight twist on my mom’s tradition. The brisket fell apart, the flavors were fantastic and the dish couldn’t have been better served with twice baked potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts.

Now as the weather gets a bit warmer, I’m hoping to take advantage of the apartment rooftops of a few of my friends. Because the only thing that makes a Sunday Supper better, is when you get to cook it and eat it outside!

No Salt…

March 24, 2010

No Problem!

You can’t open a newspaper, read a blog, or even make it through your facebook feed without hearing about salt, and in particular sodium. Hypertension, weight gain, lack of brain function and just about anything else regularly occurring as a health issue in this country is being linked to sodium intake. But quite frankly, do we really need scientific studies and governmental organizations to realize that restaurants use a lot of salt. Or that frozen entrees rely on a ton of salt for preservation. Or that eating chips makes you thirsty. Salt tastes good. So use it in moderation and move on…

So all that being said, you must be wondering what the hell my “no salt, no problem” blog entry is all about. Well last night I was faced with a unique dilemma. Here I was, dinner plans in place, ready to cook when I realized the one ingredient you never seem to run out of was the one ingredient I was missing. I was out of salt! I was just about to throw on my sneakers and head for the store when laziness creativity took over…

Honestly this may have been the best dinner I have ever made. I know I’ve said that before but this one blew me away. And to think, not a single grain of salt was added. Luckily for me my fridge was stocked with a few typically salty ingredients. Olives, feta cheese, and tomatoes all posess a satisfying saltiness either naturally occurring or through the process of curing. And incorporating these three ingredients throughout the dish is what made this meal so good.

First I made an arugula, broccoli, and feta pesto. It may sound a bit odd but honestly I may never want the traditional basil again. Then I made the sauce to poach Mahi Mahi fillets in. Tomatoes, olives, and fresh thyme melded sweetness and saltiness to act as the perfect flavor enhancement for the meaty fish. Lastly I made a simple bean salad of red beans, mushrooms, and sautéed broccoli stems. This salad was inspired by the three bean salad I had in Puerto Rico that was frustratingly simple and delicious. The addition of the broccoli stems which I am always trying to incorporate to eliminate my waste, acted as a nice crispy element while everything soaked up a bit of that pesto and a splash of red wine vinegar.

So, faced with my lack of salt and subsequent lack of enthusiasm for heading out to the store, creativity prevailed, and in a big way. Borrowing flavor from some salty ingredients, I was able to produce a “salt free” restaurant ready meal. Did I reduce my sodium intake? Probably not, but hey, it’s all about how you spin it…

In need of some lunch help…and some links

March 23, 2010

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day then lunch has to be the most frustrating. Particularly if you have a designated lunch break or even a self regulated window, lunch poses all sorts of dilemnas. Depending on your situation you may focus more on the money spent versus money saved. Or maybe it’s the repititive nature of what’s around you. For example, even when I was working smacked betwen the east and west villages I felt the lunch boredom set in. Trust me, just because the scenario changes, a thai lunch special, is a thai lunch special. And on top of all that there’s the fairly common food coma most associated with the mid day meal. It may not be official at the moment but 1-2 pm in most offices should be dubbed nap time. And yes, I am serious. So what do you do for lunch? How do you deal with these dilemnas? I’ve been trying my best to bring my own meals in order to save some dough but as you know, I’m not the best with eating leftovers. So that’s why I want your suggestions….cause I know I’m not the only one that could use them.

And some random links…

Fast Food March Madness – So Good Blog did this with Meat last year and I’m glad I found this year’s version. I’m a bit late in posting but you can still get involved with the voting and considering there are some pretty great regional fast food joints listed, it should be interested to see which Cinderella stories march on. Could Boston Market be the St. Mary’s or Cornell that ruins everyone’s bracket? I’d like to see it happen.

Amazing shelf life achieved – Most of the time this is considered a good thing by the food industry. This time I’m not so sure McDonald’s PR team will be thrilled. Honestly this is pretty gross. Can’t really say much about it. Can’t say I’ll never eat fast food the rest of my life, but that being said…

Great Hash Browns – I really love this article because it takes something most homecooks have struggled with at some point and provides a great explanation and guidance on how to fix the problem. The reason this is so great is because good potatoes take any decent breakfast and push it over the top. Particularly when there is a diner on every block in the city, good potatoes can be all it takes for a return visit.

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