Monday, May 31, 2010

Tuna Noodle Casserole

This ain't your momma's tuna noodle casserole. You won't find a can of Campbell's cream-of-something in the ingredient list. To jive up the standard tuna casserole, a little dill is added. To replace the usual yellow onion and celery, leeks are called up from the minors. It is springtime, after all, and you should be shoveling down fresh leeks, green garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, and all of spring's offerings with reckless abandon. Or at least often, if you don't like being reckless.

The one familiar approach? The potato chip topping. There are some things you just don't change.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
6 servings

1/2 stick butter
2.5 C leeks, thinly sliced, white and pale green parts only(bout 2 leeks worth)
1/4 C AP flour
2 C milk, whole preferred
1/2 C half&half
1 t lemon juice, fresh of course
8 oz wide egg noodle
1/2 C Gruyere, freshly grated
2 TB dill, freshly chopped
10-12 oz tuna, preferably albacore, drained and forked over
2 C potato chips, crushed

Butter an 8X8X2" glass baking dish, or something similar. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the leeks, season with S&P. Cover and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often, until tender but not to the point of browning. Add the flour and stir for 90 seconds, then gradually add the milk and half and half. I always like to have the liquid portion of a bechamel slightly warmed, never brought to a boil though. Cook until slightly thickened, stirring often for about 6 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir, then taste and adjust seasoning with S&P. Remove sauce from heat and set aside.

Cook the egg noodles until al dente in well-salted water. Drain and reserve 1/2 C of the cooking liquid. In a large pot or bowl, combine the noodles and the reserved liquid, sauce, dill, tuna and cheese. Fold to combine ingredients, then transfer to baking dish and spread evenly. Top with crushed potato chips.

Fire up the hotbox to tree-seven-five. Bake the casserole covered with foil for 22 minutes, then for another ten uncovered, until all nice and bubbly and golden brown. You may also fire on the broiler for a couple minutes too, but watch carefully so you don't burn the topping.

Resist temptation to cut into this for about 8-10 minutes once out of the oven. Then, you may dive in and enjoy. Your childhood tuna noodle casserole, slightly modern with leeks and dill.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Italian Sub Sandwich Pasta Salad

What is it called in your neighborhood? A submarine? Hoagie? Grinder? How about a hero or blimpie? Wedge, zep, torpedo, bocadillo, bomber, rocket, tunnel, cosmo or spuckie?

If you're in NJ or Boston it's a submarine. In Philly, of course it's called a hoagie. In NYC it's a hero. The poor boy is a term originating in St. Louis, and the Po' Boy was born in the bayou of Louisiana. They might sound similar but are probably much different, the latter of course contains seafood. That's a completely different sammich- the traditional usually includes a variety of Italian lunch meats such as Genoa salami, mortadella, thin sliced pepperoni, capocollo or prosciutto, and provolone cheese served with lettuce, tomato, and onion, then seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and olive oil.

Unfortunately, a more popular term for this type of sandwich these days might be a footlong. Thanks, you once fat-assed Jared. What is worse than the footlong? The double-down. YGTBFKM. That is some nasty shit right there. Oh, there's no carbs. Yeah, and enough salt to wrinkle a baby giraffe. Yummy. It sounds like some filth you'd find on a Hardee's menu.

Oh, and even though my favorite sammich place prefers the term hero, I'm going with sub sandwich. As in submarine. This pasta salad has become my recent spring fling, I hope I don't get burned out soon...but on sandwiches, never.

A fantastic tip I read from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette- next time you're down to the bottom of the mustard jar, instead of trying to crank a spoon around in there to remove all the contents, save it to make your next lil batch of vinaigrette in there. Shake it up and it's good to go, you just salvaged the 1 ts you need to emulsify your dressing. Damn that's ingenious.

Italian Sub Sandwich Pasta Salad-
serves-enough for you and your friends' lunches-you're welcome, by the way.

1 lb pasta- farfelle, (bow-tie) shells, penne, etc.
2 bell peppers, diced- green are cheap, red and yellow are pretty
1/2 large red onion, diced
handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half
4 oz sharp cheddar, diced
4 oz mozzarella, diced
6-8 oz Genoa salami, diced
15-20 pepperoni, diced
1/3 C banana peppers, rough chop
1 ts dijon mustard
2 TB white wine vinegar
6 TB EVOO, the good stuff
2 ts oregano, dried

Cook the pasta in heavily-salted water until al dente. While allowing to cool, coat with a little EVOO to avoid sticking.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the mustard, vinegar, EVOO, S&P, and oregano, then shake in a small jar or zap it with a stick blender to combine.

Fold all the salad ingredients together, then add 3/4 of the dressing, add the rest depending on how much you like.

That is some tasty pasta salad right there, enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Egg- The Most Valuable Ingredient?

Supposedly, the 100 folds in a chef's toque represents the 100 different ways the chef can cook an egg. That might be just as silly as the hats themselves, which have been around since the 18th century. For some kitchens, the height of the hat denotes the rank of the chefs. So much for just keeping your food hair-free.

There are 100 different ways to cook an egg you say? Well, they can be fried, poached, broiled, boiled, coddled, roasted, scrambled, and pickled. It's used for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. It can be used for emulsification purposes, to bind ingredients, to adhere coatings, to give liquidity to sauces. You can find them falling out of chickens, ducks, quails, ostriches, and alligators. From sweet to savory, I can't think of a more versatile ingredient.

What would we do without the yolk? No mayonnaise or hollandaise?

What would we do with the super-unique egg white proteins? No souffles or meringues?

How much easier does it get? You don't even have to cook the egg! Only 1 in 20,000 or so eggs may be infected with salmonella, and even at that it's not a concern for the normal healthy adult- just to babies, old folks and probably Magic Johnson.

Hard-Boiled Eggs-

Get enough water to cover the eggs by 1" to a rolling boil. Gently lower in the amount of eggs you want to cook plus one as a tester. Reduce heat to a shimmer, which is a very slight simmer. Cover and cook for 11 minutes. Remove your tester, leave cooking for another 2-3 minutes if needed until desired consistency is reached. Once done, cool with running water. Will keep for about 5 days in the fridge.

My most perfect breakfast food- hard-boiled egg with cayenne, black pepper, fleur de sel.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pistachio Lemon Linguine

Pistachio and lemon pasta? Whaaaaa? I thought the same until I was passed a very artfully twisted fork of this at Bar Stuzzichini, an Italian spot in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. Wow! Very fresh, unique, light and delish. Of course I didn't think it was better than my gnocchi all'amatriciana, which is guanciale, or pork jowl. But that's why we like to share. I just don't pass up the opportunity to eat pork jowl. Or pork anything, really. Crispy pig tails? Haven't quite got there yet....

So this is my version, I think it's pretty close, although I certainly didn't use the tagliolini as the restaurant menu describes. Knowing all the Italian names for pasta is certainly a life-long quest, as is traversing the wine regions of Italy. Did you know there's more than 500 varietals scattered throughout the 20 'official' wine districts in the boot? Time to put aside the chianti and sangiovese and get to it!

I honestly can't remember what the pairing was for this dish, so I guess I'll suggest one of my fav Italian reds- Barbera D'alba, it's fun stuff. You'll like it or I'll refund your money.

Pistachio Lemon Linguine
4 servings

1 lb. linguine
1 medium onion, diced
2 TB butter
3 TB AP flour
2 C milk
2 C chicken stock, homemade preferred
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 fresh cracked black pepper
2 TB lemon zest (bout 2 lemons worth)
4 TB fresh lemon juice
1 C shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
1 1/4 C good parmigiano-reggiano

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente.

Combine the milk and stock in a medium saucepan and warm up over low heat, do not boil. While the pasta cooks, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk for 3 minutes to make a light roux. Add the warm liquid in a steady stream, whisking to incorporate. Stir almost constantly for about 10 minutes, or until nice and thick. Season with S&P.

If you like, (I actually did) strain the sauce to remove the solids, then return to the skillet. Add the lemon juice and zest, pistachios and 1 C parm-reg. Stir to combine, then add the pasta to the mix-use tongs to remove the pasta from the cooking water-you'll bring a bit of that water along to help the sauce, vs. draining the pasta completely.

Top with the remaining parm-reg and a couple turns of the pepper mill.

If you think the linguine looks a little thin and might actually be whole wheat spaghetti, well, give yourself a gold star...all I had on hand that day was some 'ghetti. Linguine or fettuccine would work better, however, to help transport the tasty sauce to your flapper. If you can find tagliolini, then you must be in an Italian deli or grocery store. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Balsamic Onion Marmalade

Yes, this might take some time, but trust me, it pays off. Just like caramelizing onions, the time donation is worth every minute, transforming flavors from normal to intensely delicious.

The best balsamic vinegar is from the Modena region of Italy, and it's not that expensive-you might pay an extra $2 or so, and it's not like you go through bottles of this weekly. As always, the best ingredients do make the best-tasting meals. It is that simple.

Balsamic Onion Marmalade-
makes about 2 C

4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 ts kosher
freshly cracked black pepper
1/3 C white sugar
2/3 C balsamic vinegar

Put your largest skillet over medium heat, coat with EVOO. Add the onions and salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until the unjins become very soft. Add the sugar and cook for about 12 minutes, or until they cook off most of the moisture. Add the vinegar and reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally for about 1 hour, the onions should be extremely soft and almost dry.

I'd say these keep in the fridge past 14 days or so, they just don't make it that long. Pizzas, turkey sammiches, smashed taters, eggs, from topping a plain ritz cracker to topping a juicy rib-eye steak, I'm sure you can find a way to enjoy.

Another Day, Another Pie

What is the one food group you couldn't give up? If you have a sweet tooth maybe it's chocolate or cookies? Perhaps steaks or a nicely grilled juicy hamburger?

I say it's carbs- a plate of pasta with some garlic bread and a quartino of red wine-talk to ya later. Those diets that declare you abstain from carbs? F that. Not gonna happen. Moderation, of course, is the key. Any paradigm that forbids you to eat something, walk away quickly. If it won't harm you, that is-fugu, anyone?

Bread-it's so damn appealing, the fresh flavors of yeasty goodness, just like your Goose Island Honkers Ale. Sandwich in a glass, not much different than bread.

Balsamic Onion, Formaggio White Pie-

Pizza dough

1 packet dry active yeast

1 C warm water, 105-110 F

1 ts honey

1.25 C bread flour, King Arthur preferred

1.25 C AP flour

1 ts salt

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

1 TB good EVOO

1 C cheeses- mozzarella, fontina, Parm-Reg (1 C total, whatev you got)

1/2 C Balsamic Onion Marmalade

Stir the yeast, honey, and water in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes until foamy. Combine the flours and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer or other large bowl and stir with a whisk attachment to mix thoroughly. Add the yeast mixture and stir until incorporated. Mix for about 5 minutes using a dough hook on speed 2, until the dough forms a ball and clears the sides of the bowl. The dough should climb up the hook and be smooth and elastic. If you don’t have a stand mixer, once all the ingredients are incorporated knead for 10 minutes on a lightly-floured surface. I always like to play with my food and hand knead for a minute even when using the stand mixer, just to feel it.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly-oiled bowl, rolling it around to cover the ball with oil. Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a somewhat warm, draft free area. Let proof until doubled in size, about 1.5 hrs.

Preheat your oven to 500° F with the stone on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Punch down dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out into something that resembles a round shape, perfection is not important. Your dough should be about a 12” round and about ½” thick. Transfer to a pizza peel that has been dusted with cornmeal, keeping the shape as best as possible. If the dough springs back too much, let rest for 10 minutes and try again.

Once peeled up and the oven has been at temp for about 30 minutes, top with EVOO, garlic, balsamic onion, then the fromage-I like about half mozz, then a little pecorino romano and parm-reg. Slide onto your stone for about 8-12 minutes, obviously watching carefully towards the end of cooking, and rotating if your oven ain't even Steven.

Slice up, pour a brewski, enjoy.

Bakin' Bacon

Bakin' Bacon. Is this really a recipe? Yeah, I guess not, it's more of a temporary, fleeting moment of food that has a much more desired, long-term side-effect-a little tub of rendered bacon fat. Add that to anything you want to instantly turn delicious- frying onion, mirepoix, grilled cheese, even pancakes. Anything that calls for butter or oil and you want to infuse a little porky tastiness.

My once seemingly endless supply of luscious fat from the bacon party, the cooking of many pounds of Nueske's applewood-smoke bacon has finally depleted, actually the last bit of it was turning a tad rancid. That doesn't taste good. Time to toss that and make a fresh batch.

This is my preferred method for cooking bacon- 375 F for about 20 minutes one side, then about 4-6 min on the other. You want to keep a close eye on this after the first side-depending on the thickness, they can burn quick once dry. That's a rack on a sheet pan, if you're not a visual learner-type person.

No mess, you still have the olfactory pleasure wafting through the house, it's (slightly) healthier when not frying in it's own fat, and it easily pours off a sheet pan into a cut open aluminum Miller Lite can to cool before storing in the fridge. I like to keep it in a little tupperware covered with a bit of wax paper.

DAMN what to do with all those strips of pork?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Creamy Cucumber Dill Salad

Along with your beaners and weiners, this might might be the perfect accompaniment to spring and summer's grilled dogs, burgers, brats, etc. It's cheap, healthy, tasty, and hopefully from mostly local ingredients. The dill and zingy lemon flavors bring the cuke alive, with of course a little feta for good measure. Can the addition of cheese or bacon ever really hurt a dish?

The salting of the sliced cucumber is key to bring out some moisture- absolutely do not skip this step. Be sure to shake off the saltwater, the feta brings enough sodium to the profile. Plus, it's fun to make it rain with kosher, like salting a chicken.

Creamy Cucumber Dill Salad
2-3 servings

1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 T kosher salt
4 T plain yogurt
1 T mayonnaise
juice of 1 small lemon
freshly ground pepper
a couple large sprigs of dill, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 T feta, crumbled

Lay out the cuke slices on a sheet pan and sprinkle with the salt, let rest for about 30 minutes, then drain off the saltwater. Combine all ingredients, chill for about an hour to allow flavors to mingle. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Panko Breaded Pork Cutlets, Spicy Orange Reduction

Panko is the shit when it comes to breading. You get a crisper, crunchier texture that is ideal for pork, shrimp, chicken, anything fried, really. AKA Japanese bread crumbs, you can find them in most big box chains, sometimes hidden in the Oriental aisle or whatever they call it.

Another reason to avoid, as much as possible, those giant chain grocery stores-with this country being so damn diverse these days, where in fact the Caucasian race is the minority in many urban environs, do we really need the Oriental aisle or the Latino aisle? Can't we just put food into the other categories that are already hanging from the ceiling, like soup, beans, cereal? Chips, crackers, bread? Why so difficult? Do they think we'd be forever hunting for miso or flour tortillas without the racial breakdown?

Normally I like my chops large, bone-in, brined, grilled or pan-fried and finished in the oven. When time does not allow, I'll skip the brining, but it does make a difference that you can taste and feel. Faced with even shorter time, there are the little boneless chops or these cutlets, which cook up real quick like.

Panko Breaded Pork Cutlets, Spicy Orange Reduction
2 servings

1/2 C Orange juice
1/4 t chili flakes
4 pork cutlets
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 C panko breadcrumbs

In a small saucepan, reduce the orange juice by half over medium-low heat, about 12-15 minutes or so. Add the chili flakes about halfway through.

Prepare a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat while the juice is reducing. Your protein, of course, has come to room temperature and is not right out of the fridge. Prep the usual three-station breading process- a shallow dish of seasoned flour, bowl with egg, and shallow dish with the breadcrumbs. Pie pans work fabulously easy for this task.

Season both sides of the pork with S&P, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, then the egg, ensuring to let all the egg drip off, then coat in the panko, pressing on to adhere. To avoid both hands becoming a sticky, undefined mass of humanity, keep your hands on separate tasks- the hand with flour should not move past that step, the other hand does the egg and crumb.

Place cutlets in hot skillet, cook for about 2 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness.

Once the juice has reduced by about half, remove from heat and whisk in a pat of butter, season with a little salt and black pepper too if desired.

It's a 30-minute meal! And you can carry all the ingredients at once from the fridge! And you can have a special bowl on your counter to throw trash in! And you can have a lame-ass husband that doesn't know how to ride a motorcycle!

The orange reduction being mounted-

Yes, that is a technical term and yes, I still think it's funny.