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!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wine Braised Chicken Legs with Onions, Garlic, and Fennel

These past few nights in New York have been really freaking cold. The kind of cold that makes me miss those mild California nights where snow and sleet are just words and don't really hold any meaning. Alas, I cannot go back to California on a whim.

But I can make these wine braised chicken legs.

Our neighbor was kind enough to lend us his Dutch oven before Christmas, and I have been taking full advantage of it ever since. I love making stewy, goopy, warm things during the winter, and the Dutch oven is just the kind of pot I want on the stove to make them in. I dare say this Dutch oven (which I believe was barely used, if at all, before I borrowed it) lends magical flavor and a certain sense of regality to the things I cook in it. Or maybe I'm just not used to seeing a Le Creuset in our humble little kitchen.

Braising is a rather forgiving method of cooking, particularly when cooking something that has the potential to be quite bland, like chicken. I've infused the braising liquid - wine, in this case - with lots of fragrant and warming things, namely fennel and garlic, which practically dissolve in the cooking process, leaving their poignant flavors melted delicately into the chicken and the thick wine sauce. And though it would be appropriate in this case, I believe, to simply tilt your plate to your lips and drink up the sauce, I ate it with fluffy white rice, which soaked up those juices just fine.

On a cold winter's night, after a long day at work, this is exactly what the doctor ordered. So I made it. For myself. And I ate it. All.

Wine Braised Chicken Legs with Onions, Garlic, and Fennel

2 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken legs*
1 yellow onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 lemon, ends trimmed and thinly sliced (including peel)
4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1/4 cup flour
2 cups white wine
olive oil
salt and pepper
chopped parsley, to garnish

Place the flour in a shallow bowl or on a large plate. Season chicken legs with salt and pepper and dredge in flour on both sides. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add the chicken legs and let brown, about 10 minutes on each side. Remove chicken and set aside. Add a bit more oil to the pan, along with onions and fennel. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown. Add wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom. Turn up the heat a bit and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Return chicken legs to the pan and add garlic and lemons. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for about 45 minutes, until chicken is tender. Garnish with parsley and serve with fluffy white rice.

*You could easily add two more chicken legs without changing the recipe, but as I was cooking for one, I only used two.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Potato and Brussels Sprout Gratin

When Brianna and I decided against participating in our CSA this winter season, I have to admit I was a little devastated.  I simply loved going to the friendly Sixth Street Community Center every Tuesday to pick out my weekly vegetables, running into various friends and neighbors there, and participating in the Community Center's events and dinners.  Our CSA also provided all sorts of inspiration for meals, and even inspiration for a few of my blog posts.  Unfortunately, due to reasons that ranged from funding to timing, Brianna and I declined when November registration rolled around.

I was a bit worried about not participating in the CSA.  I dreaded going to the grocery store during the week.  I feared that I wouldn't eat as well and that we wouldn't have access to the variety of vegetables that the CSA provided.  I didn't want to get stuck in a rut, buying the same things from the store every week, making the same dishes for lack of inspiration, and ordering takeout if I hadn't gone grocery shopping.

As I sat around wondering where, oh where, I would get my produce from, and generally feeling sorry for myself, the weeks slipped by, and before I knew it the holidays were around the corner and Tuesday nights were filled with dinners with friends and I almost forgot about our little CSA.  Almost.

It certainly was an adjustment at first, and I was so used to knowing exactly where my vegetables were coming from and exactly when I would be getting them.  But slowly, I came to terms with not knowing, and the mystery of it all was quite exciting.  Weeknight meals became subject to my own whimsical whim and I discovered that, if you close your eyes and suspend disbelief for just a moment, potatoes from the farmers market taste just the same as potatoes from your CSA!

Though I do miss our dear CSA, life without it has not been so hard, I guess.  I can still find locally grown fruit and vegetables at my farmers market, and I've realized that my own belly and cravings are inspiration enough for simple and creative dishes.

Like this potato and brussels sprout gratin.

I love gratins.  They definitely keep it simple.  They don't require too much attention or handling; just layer some potatoes and stuff in a baking dish and pop it into the oven.  An hour later, you'll come back to bubbling, melty, creamy goodness.  It's quite amazing how such humble ingredients can come together to form something so heavenly.

Potato Gratin. Grat-ahhhn. Gra-TON. GRAt'n.

Potato and Brussels Sprout Gratin

4 medium sized yellow potatoes, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds with a mandolin or sharp knife
1/2 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and roughly sliced (into more than just halves)
1/2 pound melty cheese (or more), like raclette or a swiss gruyere, grated
1 cup heavy cream, more if necessary
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9x9 baking dish.  In the baking dish, arrange potato slices so they cover the whole bottom and just slightly overlap. Season with salt and pepper.  Form a thin layer of brussels sprouts on top of the potatoes and season those too with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle half of the grated cheese over the brussels sprouts.  Arrange another layer of potatoes, again just slightly overlapping, on top and season once more with salt and pepper.  Pour over heavy cream until it just reaches the top layer of potatoes, but make sure the top isn't covered in cream.  Pop into the oven for about 45 minutes until potatoes are golden and the gratin is bubbly.  Remove from oven, sprinkle over the rest of the cheese, and pop back in for the last 15 minutes.  Let cool for about 10 minutes before you cut into it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Radicchio and Broccoli Rice

The first week of the year and I'm back in New York, back to work, back to my routine.  Sigh.  I'm experiencing some serious post-holiday blues.  Plus, the aforementioned gluttony in my last blog post hasn't done one thing for my figure. Not one thing.

So, for a conscience clearing, blues averting meal: Radicchio and Broccoli Rice.

It's vegan!

And it's quite refreshing, actually.  I know we're still in the very depths of winter, so I'm not masquerading this dish as a summer salad or anything.  The vegetables are actually oven roasted with lots of garlic, so it still provides a toasty warm feeling for your belly.  But it won't sit in there heavily like anything creamy or meaty or extremely decadent that you've probably been indulging in for the last month.  Or maybe that was just me.

Anyhow, add a nice big hit of lemon juice along with some fresh basil, and you've got a light and uplifting meal, perfect for a winter weeknight dinner.

PS. I'm still trying to figure out how to make optimal use of my new camera.  So, if any of you out there have experience shooting with a Nikon D3000 and feel like sharing some tips, send me an email!

Radicchio and Broccoli Rice

2 stalks broccoli
1 small head of radicchio
2 cups cooked rice, slightly cooled
juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of basil, cut into a chiffonade
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare the broccoli by cutting off the tops and separating those into bite sized florets.  Rinse florets and place in a large mixing bowl.  Trim the ends of the stalks and, using a vegetable peeler, take off the tough outer skins.  Slice into chunks and put those in the bowl.  Trim the radicchio and cut into quarters, and trim out the core.  Slice thinly, rinse, drain, and mix in with the broccoli.  Toss vegetables with a generous glug of olive oil, salt, pepper, and minced garlic.  Place in a large baking dish or on a sheet pan.  Cook until broccoli is tender but still crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes.

When the veggies are done, throw them back in the mixing bowl, along with the cooked rice.  Add the lemon juice, some more olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with basil.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Cider Glaze

Well, readers, it's been a whirlwind of a winter.  And I mean that in the best possible sense.  I've been busy catching up with friends and family, getting ready for this new year, and just plain having some good times.  For that, I am ever so grateful.

As usual, the most memorable of my memories include food.  And something about this time of year, I don't quite know what it is, well, it just revolves around good food.  Really good food.  Maybe it's the gluttony of the season, the need to build up some insulation against the icy cold weather, the desire to celebrate the fact that we've made it through yet another year.  Or maybe it's just me.  But man, oh man, I've had some great food these past few weeks.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say I've had some great food this past year.  If I had to sum up 2010 in just food alone, I bet it would add up to something divinely delicious.

So here's to an even more delicious 2011.  I hope, dear readers, that your expectations are just as high as mine are.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Cider Glaze

1.5 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4 boneless pork chops, about 1-inch thick
olive oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Season pork chops liberally with salt and pepper and place in skillet, in batches if necessary. Sear until brown and crusty, about 1 minute per side.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook pork chops through, about 8 minutes, depending on the size of your chops.  I like mine tender, with just a hint of pink inside.

In a small saucepan, heat apple cider and vinegar over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer until reduced by half.  Submerge each pork chop in glaze to coat.

Slice pork chops into 1/4-inch slices.  Serve over a heap of shredded brussels sprouts and couscous, recipe below.  Drizzle over with apple cider glaze.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Israeli Couscous

1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and shredded by slicing thinly
1 leek, thoroughly rinsed and thinly sliced
2 cups cooked Israeli couscous
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
olive oil

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with 2 tablespoons butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.  When hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant.  Add shallots and leeks and cook until softened.  Add brussels sprouts and mix through.  Saute until brussels sprouts are bright green and tender, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss brussels sprouts mixture with couscous, check for seasoning, and serve.