the thin chef

Wordless Wednesday – Stay Warm!

Print This Post Print This Post

Posted by on December 22nd, 2010 Comments Off on Wordless Wednesday – Stay Warm! Print This Post Print This Post

I Heart Octopus

Print This Post Print This Post

If the title alone scared you off, you probably won’t enjoy the contents of this post. What I’m about to say (write?) will probably sound quite odd to some of you, but I imagine some of you may nod along in agreement. Or, maybe not…

Octopus is among my very favorite foods. Like, top 10 or maybe even top 5. I love the texture, the sweet-briny flavor, the look of it, everything. Until now I’d never attempted cooking it, usually relying on places like the Ravenous Pig (I know, I’m kind of obsessed) or Kefi—where they artfully prepare the squiggly seafood. But I saw some at Whole Foods and declared it was time to learn to make it myself.

Apparently baby octopus is like baby squid: you either have to cook it superfast, or braise it for a long time. I chose the quick option, since I like octopus best when it has just enough bite to be on the good side of chewy.

Cooking octopus, I discovered, is not for the squeamish. (Though I suppose eating it really isn’t either…) The tentacles curl and unfurl and wave and wiggle in the pan, as if they are coming back to life. It was great fun, if not a teensy bit unsettling at first, to watch. A fast sear in a very hot pan (or grill, if you can) makes the edges turn almost black and sweet. A slick of olive oil, a generous shower of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of coarse salt is really all it needs to be delicious. Served with some bread, it’s a perfect lunch.

This may not have convinced those of you who find anything with more than 4 legs creepy to eat, but for the brave, I highly recommend it.

Posted by on December 21st, 2010 2 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

Mussel Man

Print This Post Print This Post

My husband loves mussels. One of our favorite restaurants, the Ravenous Pig, has mussels on the menu most of the year, and he orders them often. They change up the broth each month or so—using hoppy ales or dry wines and flavorings like fennel pollen or dill—but two things always stay the same: the generous size of the mussels and the pint glass of truffled French fries that comes alongside.

While I have yet to master the truffle fries, I love to make mussels for Jason at home. It’s so simple: take a big pot, add a knob of butter and shallots and let them sizzle together. Then pour in several generous glugs of white wine or some kind of straw-colored ale (sipping some while you’re at it), and a few pounds of the shiny black shells. Throw in a handful of chopped fresh herbs, if you feel so inclined (and you definitely should). Simmered for just a few minutes, magic happens inside that pot. When you lift the lid, swirls of fragrant, briny steam escape, giving hints to the flavorful broth and the sweet orange bivalves inside.

A big hunk of crusty bread is mandatory, and the remainder of the bottle of wine or some of the same beer you used in the broth is highly encouraged. We like to pour the contents of the pot into a big ceramic bowl and just share—it’s slurpy and messy and just plain fun.

Posted by on December 20th, 2010 2 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

Gingerbread Men

Print This Post Print This Post

Gingerbread is one of those reminiscent, sentimental foods that evokes memories with a single whiff of the mixture of spices. I think people probably fall into two camps when it comes to the holiday sweet: crisp or soft. Perhaps the preference isn’t firm…but I’ve found that almost everyone does have a favorite texture. For me, it’s soft.

These cookies are exactly that. Cakey, slightly chewy, and very tender. I like that there’s just enough spice, not enough to overpower the characteristic taste of molasses. Again—don’t fear the Crisco. It’s not exactly an haute cuisine ingredient, but it’s what gives the cookies the light, cakey crumb, and you can’t omit it.

For frosting, I used the one from yesterday’s post. We put it in a ziploc and snipped a corner off as a sort-of piping bag, just right for making eyes, buttons, and the like on your gingerbread people.

Quick recipe note: if you don’t have buttermilk, and don’t want to buy any for just 1/4 cup, combine 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 teaspoon of white vinegar. Stir, and let sit for 5 minutes before adding to the dough.

Classic Soft Gingerbread Cookies
Originally published in Bon Appetit

6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves or allspice
3/4 teaspoon salt
11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
2/3 cup Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsulfered molasses
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine 5 1/4 cups flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in medium bowl; whisk to combine well. Beat butter and shortening in large bowl until uniform Add 1 cup sugar and the molasses, and beat until smooth. Beat in the egg and buttermilk.

Combine 2 teaspoons water and baking soda in small ramekin to blend; add to butter mixture. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 2 additions. Add in more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a slightly firm dough forms. Dough will be sticky.

Divide dough into 4 equal parts and place each mound on a piece of parchment. Top with a second piece of parchment, and shape each into a disc just less than 1/4-inch thick. Wrap disks and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°. Working with 1 disc at a time, roll dough between sheets of parchment, if needed. Cut cookies. Re-roll scraps, refrigerating as necessary to keep dough hard. Refrigerate for a few minutes before baking to ensure a crisp shape.

Bake cookies until slightly darker at edges and just firm to touch in center, about 12 minutes. Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool completely. Cool baking sheet with cold water before using for the next batch.

Posted by on December 18th, 2010 1 Comment Print This Post Print This Post

Best-Ever Christmas Sugar Cookies

Print This Post Print This Post

(I’ll post the gingerbread recipe tomorrow!)

Every year at Christmas, my mom, brother, and I bake and decorate sugar cookies. In the interest of time during this often-hectic season, we usually rely on the refrigerated rolls of Pillsbury sugar cookies. They’re fine…tasty, even. But they pale in every single way in comparison with these super-simple cookies.

Lots of butter in the dough makes the texture just crumbly enough to be tender, but not so much that they fall apart. They’re best cut thickly and baked until barely golden, which results in soft, rich, not-too-sweet cookies.

All that butter gets hard in the fridge if you chill them overnight, which you definitely should do. They held their shapes beautifully, rendering nearly professional-looking trees, stars, and the like.

I did two things when making these that I found to be super helpful: first, when I split the dough into quarters to chill, I placed each quarter between 2 sheets of parchment paper, and pressed the mound into a disc that was almost as thin as they needed to be to cut (about 1/4 inch). Then I wrapped the paper around the discs, stacked them in a ziploc bag, and refrigerated them overnight. The lack of rolling and warming, I think, made sure the butter stayed nice and cold so the cookies were nicely shaped and evenly baked.

Second, when I rolled and cut them, I kept the parchment on the dough instead of using floured board. There was no resulting dust of flour, and they didn’t stick once. And while I re-rolled the scraps, I popped the already-cut-out cookies in the fridge, right on the baking sheet.

The frosting is another one of those “why did I wait so long to make this?” recipes. It also falls into the category of “I’m never buying this again.” The texture mimics the frosting you buy in the little cylinders at the grocery store, but again, it’s far superior in every way. There’s no greasy feeling in your mouth, no saccharine sweetness to mask the flavor of the cookies. It’s easier, cheaper, and so much tastier to make this one yourself. Don’t fear the Crisco…it’s what lends the creamy, silky mouth feel to the frosting.

Perfect Cut-and-Bake Sugar Cookies
adapted, slightly, from The Kitchn
makes 3 or 4 dozen, depending on your cookie cutter size

1 1/2 cups butter, softened at room temperature for an hour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 small eggs
3 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature for an hour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until golden. Add the cream cheese and continue mixing until evenly incorporated. Add the extracts.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl, and whisk to mix. With the mixer on low speed, add flour a bit at a time.

Divide the dough into 4 balls and place each on a large piece of parchment. Top with a second piece of parchment, and press or roll dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Wrap the parchment around the discs and stack in a zip-top bag. Refrigerate dough for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.

Heat the oven to 350° . If needed, roll dough until it’s 1/4-inch thick. Cut out cookies.

Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, depending on size of cookies. They should just be golden at the bottoms. Let cool completely before icing or decorating, and store in a tightly covered container.

Easy Frosting
Found on Simply Recipes (a lovely blog with excellent recipes)
makes enough for the cookies

1/3 cup Crisco
1 pound powdered sugar
about 1/4 cup milk (i used skim and it was fine!)
1 teaspoon extract of your choice (almond, vanilla, peppermint…)
Food coloring

Combine Crisco and sugar in a large bowl. Add milk and mix until smooth. Add extract, and mix until combined. Add food coloring until it’s the shade you like.

Posted by on December 17th, 2010 1 Comment Print This Post Print This Post

Smoky Roasted Chickpeas

Print This Post Print This Post

Chickpeas are so versatile, aren’t they? I love their flavor, and especially their texture, which is perfect in soups, tossed over a simple green salad, or even as the base of a salad on their own. I thought I knew just about every way to prepare a chickpea until last week. I was trying to think of something snacky I could put out with cocktails for a little get together we had, and I didn’t want to rely on ordinary (read: boring) salted nuts. I remember seeing a recipe forever ago in a magazine for roasted chickpeas, which renders them golden brown and addictively crunchy.

You can prepare these in many, many different ways…tossing them with dried herbs, garlic, black pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil, or even Old Bay before roasting. I used my favorite smoked paprika, which gave them depth, and a warm, smoky flavor. I think they’d be perfect as part of a tapas spread.

If you look around for similar recipes, you’ll find varying times and temperatures for cooking; this is the method that worked for me. High heat to brown the chickpeas and give them a nutty flavor, and a low heat for drying out the excess moisture.

Smoky Roasted Chickpeas
Makes enough for a party of 10 or so

2 (14.5-ounce) cans chickpeas
2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil (enough to coat)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 425°.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, and place them on a few layers of paper towels or a non-terrycloth dishtowel. Rub the beans gently to dry them. If the skins come off, remove and discard them, but don’t worry about getting every single one.

Place the dry chickpeas in a bowl, and toss with the oil, paprika, and salt. Taste one, and adjust the seasonings. Spread the chickpeas out on a sheet pan, shaking pan gently to distribute evenly.

Roast chickpeas for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove from oven, and stir. Lower oven temperature to 225°. Wait a few minutes for the oven to cool, then return pan to oven. Bake for 20 minutes longer, or until chickpeas are golden brown and very crunchy.

Try not to eat them all before your guests arrive. Store any leftovers (if there are any) in a ziploc bag for up to a week.

Posted by on December 16th, 2010 2 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

{Almost} Wordless Wednesday

Print This Post Print This Post

it’s cold here, which makes me happy…but also makes me long for scenes like this one.

i’ll be back—soon—i promise.

Posted by on December 15th, 2010 1 Comment Print This Post Print This Post

Torta di Pasta

Print This Post Print This Post

If you’re like me (and I hope I’m not alone), you cringe and feel terrible when you throw away food…but it happens more than you’d care to admit. Especially for those of us cooking for just two, leftovers are a fact of life. Many times, I love leftovers…but sometimes, they sit in the fridge for days before I cringe and throw them out. I hate, hate, hate to waste food. I know the sad reality that the majority of our planet would kill to have enough food to even have the option to throw some of it away. Without going any farther down that road, we’ll just leave it at the fact that wasting food is clearly irresponsible.

So. What to do with those leftovers? Pasta is one of my least favorites to eat the next day, but I always cook too much the night before. It’s almost never good simply reheated, since any amount of heat cooks it further, and it turns to mush in a matter of minutes. Pasta is almost always the leftovers I throw away.

But the other day, that all changed. Famished after running around all morning, I came home with the knowledge of two ingredients I wanted to combine: local eggs and a little glass container of pasta from the night before. I envisioned something Giada De Laurentiis made ages ago on her show—something called Torta di Pasta, an egg-and-pasta cake that’s similar to a frittata.

Seriously good, cheap, and filling, this might be my new favorite lunch. It’s crisp on the outside, yielding and creamy on the inside. The next time you find yourself with some leftover long-strand pasta sitting in the depths of your fridge, try this. It’s not even a recipe, it’s that easy.

Simply heat a small splash of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add enough pasta to the pan to cover the bottom generously. Let it sit for 1 or 2 minutes. Crack some eggs into a bowl. For a small skillet, you’ll need about 3; for a large one, maybe 6. Whisk the eggs, and add some salt and pepper. Pour the eggs into the pan over the pasta. Let set until the bottom is firm and golden (maybe 3 or so minutes). Sprinkle the top generously with grated parmesan. Then you have a choice. If it’s a small skillet, use a spatula to flip the whole thing over. If it’s a big one, stick the pan under the broiler for a few minutes until the whole thing is firm and the top is golden-brown. Slice, and serve.

I dipped my bites in sriracha (of course), but some pesto or leftover warm marinara (or a mixture of the two) would be good to serve alongside.

Posted by on November 2nd, 2010 3 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

Super Fast Lemony Chicken with Tender Greens

Print This Post Print This Post

One of the first meals I ever cooked away from home was chicken piccata, a dish I grew up eating a lot (I requested it all the time). It’s still a staple in my kitchen today, and I love to play around with the technique and flavors to create new-ish recipes inspired by the classic rendition.

A few nights ago, I wanted something super easy and fast for dinner since I had already spent the whole day in the kitchen testing, photographing, and editing recipes for the second issue of edible Orlando. I looked in the fridge; a few chicken tenders, a half-drunk bottle of Chardonnay, a half a bag of arugula, and about a quarter of a box of chicken stock stared back. Just enough, I thought, for some kind of piccata-esque meal.

You can use spinach or watercress here instead of (my current obsession) arugula, and you could easily do this with chicken breast cutlets or even thin slabs of tofu for a vegetarian version. If you don’t have wine for the sauce, that’s OK, too. Just replace it with more chicken stock. Fresh herbs would be nice here—dill or parsley if you have them. If not, it’s lively enough as is. You could pair this with some orzo or brown rice to round out the meal.

Super Fast Lemony Chicken with Tender Greens
I prefer chicken stock for this recipe, as opposed to chicken broth, because it makes a richer sauce. Kitchen Basics makes my favorite kind, and Progresso also has one that’s pretty good. Look for low-sodium since you’re reducing it.
serves 2

1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
6 chicken tenders
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup Chardonnay or other dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 big handfuls arugula or other tender greens

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow dish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken tenders in flour mixture, coating evenly, and shaking off excess. Place coated chicken in the hot oil. Cook until golden brown and cooked through. Set chicken aside on a plate.

Add lemon juice, wine, and chicken stock to the pan; scrape any brown bits from the bottom with a spoon. Simmer sauce until reduced and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Taste, and add salt and pepper. If the sauce tastes too tangy, add a splash of chicken broth, and keep simmering until reduced. Turn heat off.

Add chicken tenders and arugula to the skillet, and toss gently to coat everything in the sauce and to wilt the greens. Serve immediately.

Posted by on October 27th, 2010 3 Comments Print This Post Print This Post

Pasta. Salad.

Print This Post Print This Post

Busy days lead to quick lunches thrown together with whatever is on hand at the moment. Many times that means pasta with something thrown in from the fridge, be it leftover tofu and cabbage or even a few spoonfuls of chili. Or arugula. My affinity for arugula has recently become a full-blown love affair, thanks to the bags of the spicy greens we’ve been getting from our co-op. Grown just a few miles up the road, this arugula is better than I’ve ever had before. It’s just spicy enough, so nutty, and so very green and crisp because it gets picked the day before I pick it up. Lately, it’s been going in (or on top of) many things that come out of my kitchen.

So for lunch last week, I cooked some pasta, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled it with parmesan, and then topped the bowl with a few handfuls of arugula. I drizzled that with a little oil, and some flakey salt for good measure. Plain, simple, and so good. I liked it so much, I had it the next day, too.

What do you throw together when you’re busy but want something good for lunch?

Posted by on October 26th, 2010 1 Comment Print This Post Print This Post