Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Best Thing I Ever Baked


You haven't heard a peep from me for an entire year (gulp), which wasn't my intention, I swear! Nevertheless it's astonishing how a new baby and a full time job leave little time for anything. And I mean anything. If I got three showers a week I'd think I was on vacation.

Despite the perpetual eye bags, never-ending laundry and a house that may never be tidy again, it's been a wonderful year. My heart has grown five times its original size in response to the tiny little human who joined us 17 months ago.

This part is loooong overdue. So dear readers, without further adieu, I'm pleased to introduce my wonderful distraction: Maximo Christian.

                                                            At two days old

                  Nice and plump at 5 months    

          Already feeling at home in the kitchen

                Chunky Monkey, a.k.a. Maxidozer

                                       And of course he's a good eater. 


Sunday, August 5, 2012

How to Make the Perfect Grilled Cheese


I don't have the greatest memory. Birthdays? Forget it. The big snow storm of 2008? Clueless. What I did yesterday? Give me a minute. But when it comes to food memories, I can spew out more details than anyone cares to hear.

For example, in 1998 my mother, sister and I were in England during a 6-week European adventure. In addition to visiting the Beatrix Potter museum in the Lake District and the home of James Herriot (author of "All Creatures Great and Small"), our to-do list included a proper afternoon tea in London.

I'll never forget it. My mom was up front ordering while my sis and I grabbed a table. Nearby, a little 5 or 6 year old English boy, outfitted in knee-high socks and dress shorts, was looking us up and down. He was sitting on a bench swinging his little legs when, apropos of nothing, he proudly announced in the most adorable British accent, "I'm having the toasted cheese." I will always think of this when I eat a grilled cheese sandwich.


  
Grilled cheese is a simple comfort food that both children and adults enjoy immensely. While the dish is uncomplicated, it's surprising how many competent cooks admit having a hard time getting it right. Most often this means charred bread. The good news is that scraping the blackened bits off with a knife is a thing of the past. With the correct technique and a little patience, you can serve up perfect, glorious grilled cheese sandwiches every single time.

The number one rule is that the heat needs to be lower than you think. The whole point is to end up with a golden, buttery exterior and an oozy, melted interior, a process that simply cannot be rushed. Number 3 (a solid medium-low) on the stove dial is just right. 

Secondly, I find that putting a weight on top allows for even heating and ensures that the cheese melts properly. I use a simple piece of aluminum foil and an empty pot.


Like I said, it's all about the technique. Here's how I do it:

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. In the meantime, assemble your sandwiches using good bread, sliced cheeses and any other fixins' that strike your fancy. For the sandwiches pictured here, I used raw Cheddar, summer tomatoes and basil from the garden. Swirl some butter in the bottom of the skillet. Place the sandwiches in the pan, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil and top with a pot that's large enough to press the sandwiches evenly (a baking dish would also work). Let the grilled cheese cook until the bottoms are perfectly golden brown, 4-6 minutes. When you lift each sandwich to flip, swirl a little more butter underneath (don't be skimpy). After flipping the sandwiches, there's no need to continue covering and weighing them down. Cook on the other side until golden, about 3 minutes.

Unless you'd like to cut them, you can now ditch your knife since no scraping will be required. 




Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce


Last October my family and I met up in Chicago for a long weekend. We saw a show, took some tours and, of course, ate ourselves siiiiilly. We even had a few serendipitous moments, like when we found ourselves standing in front of Rick Bayless' restaurant Xoco


We had just eaten a few Chicago-style hot dogs but knew enough to find room for some of the best churros and Mexican hot chocolate on the planet.


In addition to its vibrant restaurant scene, Chicago is well known for its many ethnic and cultural neighborhoods. In fact, it boasts the third largest Italian population in the country. It also happens to be the first U.S. city to inherit giardiniera, a pickled vegetable concoction that made its way from Italy in the 1920's. Used as a condiment atop Italian beef sandwiches, it also finds its way onto antipasto platters and pasta dishes.

 
I've always loved pickled, briny things (just ask Tristan - he always kept a big jar of pickles in the fridge for me when we first started dating), so naturally I went gah-gah when I heard about a pasta and fish dish packed with green olives, capers AND gardiniera. It happened one day when I was channel flipping and landed on "My Family Recipe Rocks." Joey Fatone (remember him from N'Sync?) was in Chicago learning how to make the Cannistra family's beloved "Spaghetti with the Fish," where pasta gets topped with an olive oil-based sauce that's loaded with chopped garlic, fresh parsley and lots of salty flavor bombs. The final step involves the addition of white fish, which falls apart and melts right into the sauce as it simmers.



I adjusted the recipe substantially for bolder flavors and, well, more sauce. What can I say but YUM-o. The juicy broth is light and fresh, and if you happen to have any left over, it tastes even better the next day.

Spaghetti with Fish Sauce

Adapted and tweaked from My Family Recipe Rocks on the Live Well Network. 

Serves 4-6.

1/2 cup olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
10 large green olives with pimentos, chopped
2 tablespoons capers
Hot water
3/4 cup hot giardiniera*
1 lb white fish fillets (cod, halibut, haddock, etc.)
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, plus more for garnishing
1 lb vermicelli pasta
Asiago or Romano cheese for grating

In a 1 1/2 - 2 quart pot, heat the olive oil, garlic, green olives and capers over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown. Add enough hot water to fill the pot 3/4 full. Add the hot giardiniera* and some salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the fish fillets and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. The fish will slowly flake into the sauce. Right before finishing, stir in the fresh parsley and adjust salt and pepper if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.

To serve, top each plate of pasta with a ladle of fish sauce. Garnish with grated cheese and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

*My neighborhood grocery store only had regular giardiniera so I added some Mama Lil's Peppers for heat (you could also use hot sauce or red pepper flakes). If you don't want the heat, just use regular giardiniera.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Overnight Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles


Hello... (tap, tap)...  anybody there? You probably weren't expecting to hear from me after MONTHS of radio silence, and for that I apologize. I've missed NudeFood tremendously but can offer a few humble excuses. In May of 2011, knowing that we wanted to start a family, Tristan and I took the plunge and tied the knot. A few months later I became pregnant, and in September we left our beloved Capitol Hill apartment and bought a house in Queen Anne. A new job came my way in February because, you know, when it rains.  But the biggest, most significant change of all happened a mere 9 weeks ago. We welcomed our son, Maximo, to the world... and we are totally smitten.

While my hands are rather full at the moment, I do hope to make a semi-frequent online appearance from here on out. 


So without further ado, let's talk waffles. In my pre-pregnancy days, waffles weren't something I would typically order unless they had a piece of salty fried chicken on top. But all that changed around month six. If waffles were on the menu, that's what I was gettin'. However, I came to the sober realization that good waffles were hard to come by.  Either they were too soft, too thin, not toasty enough, too sweet or just too blah. I wanted a thick, crispy-on-the-outside-eggy-on-the-inside waffle with great flavor. Looked like I'd have to take matters into my own hands.

Enter this recipe... 


This method has so many things going for it. It starts with whole grains that get soaked overnight, and we all remember the magical benefits of soaking grains. Besides oats, buckwheat groats are added for a delicious layer of nuttiness. And instead of mixing in whole eggs, some of the whites are whipped separately and folded into the batter to produce exceptionally thick, fluffy waffles.


Warning: If you're looking for generic Eggo-type waffles, you'll be disappointed. But if you're in the market for a delicious and nutritious spin on an old classic, keep reading...


Overnight Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles
I like to make extra waffles to freeze for a quick breakfast anytime. Just pop one in the toaster*, spread with peanut butter and top with banana slices.

1 1/3 cup steel cut oats
2/3 cup buckwheat groats
2 1/4 cup buttermilk**
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, 2 separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place steel cut oats, buckwheat groats and buttermilk into a blender, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. In the morning, whiz the mixture until blended. Add the melted butter, salt, sugar to taste, baking soda, 1 whole egg, 2 egg yolks and vanilla. Blend until well mixed; pour batter into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whip the remaining two egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the egg whites into the batter.

Cook waffles according to waffle maker instructions. For my Belgian iron, this meant brushing lightly with oil, ladling 3/4 cup batter onto the iron and cooking for about 3 minutes. Keep cooked waffles warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to eat. 


*If you plan on toasting frozen waffles, under-cook them just slightly in the waffle maker. They will brown a bit more in the toaster.


**If you don't have buttermilk, simply add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar (white or apple cider) into the milk and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crispy Kale Chips


I’ve gotten a handful of kale chip questions lately. Kale chips are a snack I’ve made for years but never thought of as blog material. My mistake. They’re easy as pie to make and completely satisfy that crunchy, salty kind of craving. And if you’re someone who isn’t keen on the taste of leafy greens, this will change everything.

Kale is an unsung hero of sorts. It is one of the most nutritious foods you can possibly eat but doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. I’ve met a surprising number of people who only recognize it as that leafy salad bar decoration but wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to cook it. I have quite a few tasty ideas, but let’s start with the chips.


 
These are so simple you don’t even need a recipe. Wash a bunch of kale and strip the leaves from the fibrous stems (the stems have no place in the chip world; they won’t get crisp in the oven). Tear the kale leaves into large pieces and dry them really, really well. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of oil. Sprinkle with flaky kosher salt, toss well and spread out to form a single layer. It’s important not to overlap here – you might need to do this in batches. Bake in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes or until the chips are dry and crisp.

You’ll be amazed at how delicious these are. Mine never last more than 10 minutes but if you can summon the willpower, save a few to crush over some freshly buttered popcorn. 


I’m somewhat of a purist so I like the clean flavor of lightly salted chips, but these would be the perfect vehicle for a multitude of spice combinations. Salt and vinegar, truffle, or chili garlic chips anyone?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chinese Sticky Ribs


During my self-appointed day of cooking on Whidbey Island, I asked if anyone had a dinner request. Without missing a beat Minh-Hai piped up, “Chinese Sticky Ribs!” I like a challenge.

I’d never made sticky ribs before so I had to defer to the experts. But some of the more traditional recipes called for the likes of Chinese rose water, plum sauce and dried oysters, ingredients that the nearby Casey’s Red Apple probably didn’t carry. Luckily Cook’s Country came to the rescue.

Their recipe requires braising the ribs for a few hours in a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, sugar, fresh ginger, garlic, hoisin sauce, sherry and cilantro sprigs. After the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, it gets brushed with a sticky, sweet glaze followed by a few flips under the broiler until deep mahogany in color.



We were on island time so it didn’t matter that the ribs reached the table well after 9pm. Despite the crappy lighting not doing them justice in this photo, you can trust me when I say this recipe is legit. The outside of the meat had those lovely sticky charred bits while the tender inside barely required chewing. They were so addictively delicious that I found myself gnawing on the bones well after the meat was gone.

As we were eating, fingers and faces covered in sticky glaze, Minh-Hai said, “I just dreamt this up and here it is!” That’s exactly what cooking is all about.

Chinese Sticky Ribs
If you don’t have dry sherry on hand, use one part apple cider vinegar and one part water. I wasn’t able to find hot pepper jelly but apple jelly worked beautifully. Since some of the heat was missing, I also upped the spice by adding a tablespoon or two of Sriracha sauce. Next time I’ll add even more! Slightly tweaked from a Cook’s Country recipe.

2 racks St. Louis style or baby back ribs (2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lbs each)


1 cup hoisin sauce

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup dry sherry (or a mix of 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water)

1 6-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

30 sprigs fresh cilantro stems (reserve leaves for glaze), chopped

8 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve green parts for garnish)
Optional: extra Sriracha or chili sauce (I added 2 tablespoons)

Glaze:


1 10-oz jar hot red pepper jelly or apple jelly

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Reserved scallion greens, thinly sliced
Extra Sriracha or chili sauce to taste

Adjust the oven rack to the middle and heat to 350°F. 


Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs. Combine the rib marinade in a large roasting pan. Add the spareribs and coat well. Cover with heavy foil and cook, meat side down, 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until just tender. Remove ribs to a plate.

Strain the cooking liquid and put 3 cups into a large nonstick skillet. Skim the fat. Add the jelly and vinegar. Simmer over medium high heat until reduced to 2 cups. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro and cayenne (and Sriracha or chili sauce, if using).

Heat the broiler (don't raise the oven rack!). Pour enough water into the roasting pan to cover the bottom. Fit pan with roasting rack, arrange ribs on rack and brush with glaze. Broil until the ribs begin to brown, flip over, and brush with more glaze. Continue flipping, glazing and broiling every few minutes until the ribs are deep mahogany (I only needed to do this 3 times). Move to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. Slice, glaze again if desired, and garnished with scallion greens. Serve with sticky rice and lots of napkins!



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Greens, Soft-boiled Eggs and Crispy Prosciutto


About five months ago we attended a fundraiser for the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, an incredible organization with a mission to help the developing world walk again. Our good friend Jared sits on the board and we were excited to show our support.

In classic auction style, we perused the items, set our sights on one particular package, agreed on our maximum amount, and then went (well) over in the heat of bidding. But it was worth it. Last weekend we redeemed our splurge and ducked away to Whidbey Island with our friends Minh-Hai and Ben. 


There is something to be said for having zero obligations. For three straight days we sat reading, snacking and sipping cocktails on the deck of a beautiful cabin overlooking the water. Our momentum was only broken to take naps or go out to dinner. Now that’s a vacation.



Saturday morning, however, I was rearing to go. I had just seen an episode of Chuck’s Day Off on the Cooking Channel where he prepared a lavish brunch for friends which included three of my favorite things -- creamy polenta, greens and eggs -- and couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Polenta is somewhat of a stodgy Italian comfort food. But its first forms were nothing like the creamy, smooth starch we know today. In pre-Roman times it was made with ancient wheat, faro, chickpeas, millet and water and resembled a coarse mush or porridge. It wasn’t until the introduction of corn around the 15th century in Italy that the face of polenta was forever changed.

Nowadays you can find plastic, sausage-shaped tubes of cooked polenta on grocery store shelves, but I recommend walking in the opposite direction. Fresh polenta only takes 20 minutes to make and tastes so much…well…fresher. Plus, just like anything made from scratch, you have the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going into your food (in this case, milk, chicken stock, cheese and butter).

The combination of creamy polenta with the runny yolks, bright greens and salty, crisp prosciutto was well received by the vacationers. Even though we didn't deserve a hearty breakfast, it gave us the necessary energy to continue relaxing like no one's business. 


 
Creamy Polenta with Greens, Soft-boiled Eggs and Prosciutto
Two very interesting techniques are used in the preparation of this dish. First, instead of poaching the eggs, soft-boil them in their shells in order to retain their shape. Secondly, instead of dealing with the hassles of pan-frying, bake the prosciutto between two cookie sheets - a simple way to get crispy, evenly cooked, flat shards of cured meat. Adapted from Chuck's Day Off.

INGREDIENTS:

 
8 slices Prosciutto

2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk (I like using whole milk)
1 cup polenta cornmeal 

1/2 - 3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
Knob of butter

4 eggs

2 bunches kale, washed, dried and leaves stripped from their stems
1 tablespoon butter, olive oil or a mix of both
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange the prosciutto slices on a parchment-lined baking tray. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and another baking tray so that the prosciutto is tightly sandwiched between the sheets. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the prosciutto is crispy. Remove from oven and set aside on a paper towel.

Combine the stock and milk in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and cook over low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for 15-20 minutes or until the grains are soft and creamy. Fold in the cheese and a bit of butter (about a tablespoon). Taste and season with salt if necessary. Cover and keep warm.

Bring at least three inches of water to boil in a large saucepan. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the eggs into the water and boil for exactly six minutes. Remove the eggs and place them in a bowl of cold water; set aside. Before serving, roll the eggs on the countertop to loosen the shells and peel.

In the same pot of boiling water, cook the kale leaves for 1-2 minutes. Drain and plunge the greens immediately into an ice bath to halt the cooking process.

In a skillet heat the butter/olive oil over medium heat. Remove the kale from the ice bath and squeeze to remove as much water as possible; chop it into bite-sized pieces. Saute the kale in the skillet along with the lemon juice for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Check the polenta before assembling. If it’s too thick, stir in a splash of stock or water to loosen things up. Divide the polenta among four plates. Top each with greens, an egg and two strips of crispy prosciutto. Garnish with a grind or two of freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Eat immediately then take a nap.