Friday, May 13, 2011

Tacos de Pernil

I originally made this meal over a month ago, at the end of March. At the time, I was living in the East Village, sans roommate. I was going through Brianna-withdrawal. My lease was almost up, and I had yet to find a new place to live. I was desperately in need of a vacation.

In an attempt to curb the loneliness and take the edge off, I resorted to bribery. I told my friends that I would cook for them, whatever they wanted, if they would bring booze and come over to keep me company. There was an overwhelmingly positive response, and for about a week, I was cooking dinner for someone every night in my tiny East Village kitchen. I caught up with old classmates and friends that I hadn’t seen in far too long. I cooked for other friends that I often cook for and that often cook for me. (And I still owe some people dinner. I know, I know. I’ll get around to it soon, I promise!) I rushed home each day after work to prepare meals, some quick and easy, some lengthy and involved. After it was over, I was exhausted. It was wonderful.

Now, a two-week road trip, a new apartment, and a new roommate later, I am finally getting around to posting the recipes for those dinners. Things haven’t really changed. I am one year older, but not really any wiser. My new tiny apartment is just as tiny as my old tiny apartment. The stress-free equilibrium I found on the road was quickly and brutally undone by work and moving. (I think the last shard of that equilibrium was shattered the other night when I found a 3-inch long cricket in the sink of my new apartment.)

And yet. And yet new experiences and friends have added even more wonder to my life. The old ones continue to amaze me. My new neighborhood has quietly accepted me and is beginning to show me its charms and tricks. My friend gave birth to a gorgeous little creature called Matilda, and she has already mesmerized me. On top of it all, it’s spring. And the food. The food just keeps getting better.

Tacos de Pernil
At its most basic, this recipe comes from my coworker, Aurora. She is from Mexico and her mother makes the best mole I have ever tasted in my life. I asked her how to make pernil and she outlined the process for me. It was much simpler than I thought it would be. She told me to take the pork, put it in a pot, cover with water, add a few aromatics of my choosing, bring it all to a boil, and then let it simmer until the meat falls off the bone. And it really was that easy.

1 3-4 pound pork shoulder, rind left on or removed (your choice!), cut into 4 or 5 pieces
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3 bay leaves
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Place pork pieces in a large pot or dutch oven. Add onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Cover over with water making sure all ingredients are just submerged. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, along with lime juice. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat. Cook until pork is tender, about 1.5 hours. Remove pork and set aside to let cool. Bring the liquid in the pot to a boil and reduce until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shred pork with your hands, or with two forks. Remove bay leaves from the liquid, strain, and pour over shredded pork. Serve with warm corn tortillas, cilantro, queso fresco, and salsa verde.

Salsa Verde

6 tomatillos, husks removed, cut into quarters
1 handful of cilantro
1 jalapeƱo, stem removed
2 cloves garlic
salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add all ingredients and boil for about 7 minutes, until tomatoes are tender. Drain and combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and season with salt. Chill, then serve with tacos.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Beef Schnitzel

I live in the East Village. Did you know that? And I love living in the East Village. But. But, Brianna moved out, my lease is ending, and my cousin and I are moving in together. And I need more space. In New York, the space:rent:proximity-to-Manhattan ratios are a bit tricky to compute, but I'm pretty sure Brooklyn = more space and less rent, so we might go there. In any case, I'm too sad to even begin talking about living without Brianna (let alone live it), so I'm busying myself with spending as much time as possible re-exploring the East Village. And cooking, of course.

Being as obsessed with food as I am, some of my favorite places in the neighborhood are the places where I can buy food. Restaurants, of course, but also markets, grocery stores, and even bodegas. There's this Asian grocery store on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 11th Street, M2M. Do you know it? As far as Asian supermarkets go, this one doesn't quite compare to the ones in Chinatown, Flushing, or even K-town. But it's the neighborhood Asian market, you know? It has what I need (kimchi and my favorite brand of instant ramen) and I'm not ashamed to admit that I love it!

So, at M2M, they sell this rib eye that's sliced almost paper thin. It's not quite as thin as something you'd use for hot pot, but it's pretty damn thin. And every time I go to the store, I walk up to it, admire it, wonder what I could make with it, and walk away, without the rib eye. Then, one day, I came across this article. That thinly sliced rib eye in the case at M2M immediately came to mind. "So this is what you're supposed to do with that," I thought. Ever since, I've been thinking about that rib eye and what else I could do with it, and this week, I finally picked some up.

Hmm, what to do with super thin meat to make it super delicious? Why, bread it and fry it, of course! Though I've made variations of this with pork and chicken, I've never tried it with beef. Boy, was I missing out. The rib eye is just so thin that, even though you're breading it and frying it, it's super light. You don't have to worry about cooking it all the way through like you do with pork or chicken, so a quick browning in the pan is really all you need. As soon as the crust becomes crisp, you take it out of the pan. The rib eye stays tender and juicy, even as thin as it is. Served alongside crunchy, bright string beans and a wedge of lemon, this schnitz is just plain WINNING.

Beef Schnitzel
I made this in my borrowed dutch oven, as my good friend Heather advised, and it worked out really well. Like she predicted, the sides of the pot really helped with splatter control. However, if you have a cast iron skillet, as I don't, I imagine that might be an even better choice.

1 pound rib eye, sliced about 1/4-inch thin
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
olive oil, for frying
lemon wedges, for serving

Set up your breading assembly line with 3 shallow bowls. In the first, add the flour. In the second, beat the eggs and add a few drops of water. In the third, spread the breadcrumbs. Season each bowl with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add a turn of oil and let that heat up. Dredge each slice of rib eye in the flour, dip it in egg, and then press into the breadcrumbs until coated all around. Fry in the oil until crisp and brown, about a minute per side. Serve schnitzel hot outta the pan with a wedge of lemon and a heap of string beans.

String Beans and Fennel
This dish serves as something bright and refreshing to go with your hot schnitzel. The fennel just happened to be in my fridge, so I tossed that in as well. Feel free to think up your own variation!

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, cored, and sliced thin
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil
sliced almonds (optional)

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add the string beans and cook for about 7 minutes until they're bright green and crisp and tender all at once. Drain and rinse quickly under cold water, then toss with fennel, lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with almonds, and serve with your hot schnitzel.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roasted Beets with Shaved Brussels Sprouts

Living in New York City, I'm constantly inspired by the different restaurants I go to, the various foods I get to eat. This dish is an adaptation of an appetizer that I had with my cousins at a wine bar in Hell's Kitchen, Casellula.

In my humble opinion, roasted beets don't need much to go with them. The dish that we shared at Casellula was perfect for that very reason. The beets were simply roasted, piled on top of raw shaved brussels sprouts, and garnished with a few nuts and some cheese. After eating it, I couldn't stop thinking about it and just had to recreate it in my own kitchen. I omitted the nuts and replaced them with lardons, of course. Other than that, I just tried to keep it simple, as it was meant to be.

Roasted Beets with Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Inspired by a dish from Casellula

1 bunch beets, stems removed and saved for another use
1 pound brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
1/2 pound pork belly, cut into lardons
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
grated parmesan, to garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash and trim beets and wrap each beet individually in foil. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about one hour, until a fork easily pierces the beets. When done, let them cool and then peel them and cut them into large chunks. Meanwhile, thinly slice brussels sprouts and give them a bit of a rinse.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and when hot, add the lardons. Cook until crisp and golden brown. Set aside. Toss brussels sprouts with lemon juice and just a drizzle of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Pile the beets on the brussels sprouts, tumble over the lardons, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and garnish with parmesan cheese.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creamed Kale

As kale's season comes to a close, I thought I'd pay tribute to one of my all time favorite crucifers. I've discussed the seemingly ubiquitous (at least in my kitchen) leafy green with many a friend and food lover. Some absolutely adore it, others could live without it. A coworker couldn't figure out what to do with it, and after some trial and error, acquired a taste for it. As for me, whether it be kale chips, kale soup, or simply sauteed kale with garlic, I've had it all, and I love it all.

And I have to say, I can't believe it never occurred to me before to make creamed kale! If you like creamed spinach, you'll like creamed kale. Even if you don't like creamed spinach, give creamed kale a chance - it might do wonders for your taste buds. Kale, the sturdy green that it is, holds up beautifully to the rich and salty cream. The kale maintains its crunch, and runs a very low risk of turning mushy or stringy like creamed spinach might.

I chose to forgo the use of any cheese, simply because I like the taste of unadulterated and unadorned kale so much, but, as is almost always the case, a sprinkle of parmesan couldn't hurt.

Creamed Kale
I could eat heaps of this stuff, and when I do, I don't necessarily feel so bad because, after all, it's kale. (Did someone say Fat Kid?) But it might be better to share the dish with some friends and loved ones, so you can have someone to witness how tasty and amazing creamed kale is. So hurry up and make some, before the season's over!

one small bunch kale
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
salt and pepper
olive oil

Heat a turn of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Add kale and saute until just starting to wilt, about 3-5 minutes. Add cream and bring to a bubble, then simmer until cream is reduced by half, or more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Devour.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pan-Seared Scallops with Mashed Cauliflower

The other day, I received an email from a friend of my mother's requesting a recipe for scallops. The meal that I came up with might possibly have been one of the quickest, most simple dishes I've ever made.

Don't get me wrong. I love braising things, cooking things low and slow in my borrowed Dutch oven, roasting things in the oven. But on a weeknight, after a busy day at work, sometimes you just want something quick. Quick and satisfying.

And these scallops are just that. I don't think there's any other way to cook scallops that yields this much flavor. Or that's this easy. The scallops, seared quickly in butter, develop an amazing crust, while the insides remain soft and velvety. The cauliflower mash could not be easier, and with a dollop of dijon, provide a perfect, subtly tangy companion to the sweet, buttery scallops.

Pan-Seared Scallops with Mashed Cauliflower

1/2 pound sea scallops, any tendons removed
one small head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
one small bunch chives, chopped

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a pat or two of butter (about 1 tablespoon should suffice). When the butter is melted and bubbly, place the scallops in the pan, flat side down. Let the scallops cook and develop a nice brown crust. Season with salt and pepper. After about 2 minutes, flip scallops gently and continue to cook until they have browned on the other side, about 2 more minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add cauliflower and garlic and cook until cauliflower is fork tender. Drain. In a large bowl, mash the cauliflower and garlic with dijon mustard and a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, topped with a few scallops and some fresh chives.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Short Rib Tomato Stew

I made several versions of this stew last year. Those versions, looking back, were made in haste, without much planning, and without my new-borrowed Dutch oven. (I'm addicted to cooking in it. Can you tell?) Though the stew was still quite tasty, if I recall, the meat verged on tough and the flavor was slightly overwhelmed by all the tomato.

This time, it's new, and it's improved.

You see, this time I had a plan. Those of you that have known me for a while know that I used to be very fond of the maxim, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." And while I'm still fond of it, I've stopped saying it out loud to people so frequently, so as not to come off as, well, a total buzzkill. Furthermore, the merits of spontaneity and necessity - namely, creativity - are not to be disregarded. I will be the first to say that I am often inspired by sudden whim, or by the contents of our pantry and fridge. After all, that's pretty much how I began making this stew in the first place. That said, I have found that, for me, it's a bit easier (and the food comes out a bit better) when I have time to plan a meal and I can think for a while about what I want to cook and how to cook it.

Enter short rib tomato stew.

The idea for the stew sprouted in my mind just over a week ago. I had visions of something hearty and beefy, brought about by a delicious dish my coworker made for our weekly lunch co-op. I recalled my previous attempts at a tomatoey stew. As I thought about what I might include in my new and improved version of the dish, a few key ingredients stood out. Short ribs, of course, instead of plain old stew meat, would guarantee tenderness. Starchy potatoes for bite. A tomato base because, well, I favor tomato-based stews. Kale for some added color and nutrients. Beef stock to tone down the tomato and tie it all together. And bacon, for that rich, umami flavor. All the perfect components, in my humble opinion, for a perfect stew.

I have to say, I think the bacon really did the trick and brought this stew up from standard to utterly soul-satisfying. Rather than dicing the bacon, I left it in whole strips. Not only did the fat from the bacon practically melt into the liquid, the meat itself became oh-so-tender and magically fell apart into bite-sized morsels. Each shred of bacon that I encountered left me craving more - more stew, more warmth, more bacon. Perfect when you have a nice big pot of stew, all bubbly and waiting on your stove.

Short Rib Tomato Stew

1/4 lb sliced bacon, diced, or not
1 to 2 lbs boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch cubes
flour, for dredging
half a yellow onion, trimmed and finely diced
1 carrot, trimmed and finely diced
1 lb baby potatoes, each potato cut in half
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
2 cups low sodium beef broth or homemade stock
1 small bunch kale
olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat a Dutch oven or medium-sized stock pot over medium heat. When hot, add bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Meanwhile, season short ribs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Add the short ribs to the pot and sear until browned on all sides. Remove short ribs and set aside. Add a turn of oil to the pot, if necessary, and add onions and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add beef stock and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Add tomato puree, put the short ribs and bacon back in the pot, and bring the mix to a boil. Turn the heat down low, cover, and let simmer for about an hour and a half. Check for seasoning and adjust as you see fit. Add the kale at the last minute, cooking until just wilted. Serve with fluffy white rice or thick crusty bread.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dallas, Y'all!

This past weekend I went to visit my good friend Allison (remember her?) in Dallas. Ever since she left New York and moved back there, we've all missed her terribly. It was lovely to see where she lives and where she spends her time, and who she spends her time with. I had a wonderful time eating and drinking with her and her friends and experiencing the food that Dallas has to offer.

What did we do? Well, let's see. Allison greeted me at the airport with a little roadie of Jameson, and... that's all I remember!

Just kidding. From there, we went to the Penguin Piano Bar to meet some of her friends and danced the night away. The next morning, we went to Good 2 Go Taco, which was amazing. While the tacos weren't necessarily traditional tacos, they were definitely classic tex-mex and filled with delicious things such as fried chicken, braised pork, hangar steak, and bacon. After an afternoon of browsing a few antique shops and vintage stores, we met Allison's parents for cocktails. Ah, yes, we were livin' the life. Allison's mom made us more than a few French 75s and sent us home tipsy. We went back to her place, got all dolled up, and met her friends at Capitol Pub, where we waited for our table at Neighborhood Services Tavern. At Neighborhood Services, we indulged in lots of voodoo sauce and too many cocktails. Then we moved on to Aura, which was a blur of drunk dancing and Dom Perignon. Yes, Allison knows how to show a girl a damn good time.

Pure bliss at Good 2 Go Taco!

Our weekend didn't end there, oh no. The next day, deemed Sunday Funday, began with brunch and several carafes of mimosas at Nick and Sam's Grill. Then we headed over to TimeOut Tavern, a wonderfully divey sports bar, where we watched the game and had a few beers. From there, we went to Mi Cocina for dinner, where I was introduced to the Mambo Taxi. They only allow you to get two of those for a reason. After a quick power nap, it was off to Black Friar for Sunday Sessions, where we recapped our weekends with more friends.

The next morning, Allison drove me to the airport. I bid farewell to Dallas, and, with a slightly bigger gut and slightly higher blood alcohol level, headed back to New York.

Thank you, Al Pal, for a fantastic weekend in your hometown. I miss you already!