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Archive for the ‘dinner in’ Category

Mmmmm, cheese.

Last night I was craving mac and cheese. I did some googling for a recipe and found that the crowd favorite seemed to be Martha Stewart’s.

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That said, I wanted something a little quicker (I was hungry) with a few less ingredients, so I went with Alton Brown’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I must admit, I am always a bit skeptical of Food Network celebrity chef’s recipes. Last night, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
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I did make a few changes to the recipe. First, I used whole wheat penne instead of elbow macaroni. Second, I didn’t have mustard powder in the house so I didn’t use any. Third, I cut down the cheddar to 10 ounces and added 2 ounces of grated parmesan. I added all the cheddar to the cheese sauce, and layered all of the parmesan on top of the pasta (under the breadcrumbs).

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The end result was creamy and cheesy, with a nice crunch from the panko (bread crumbs). I liked the heartiness of the whole wheat, but if you don’t then just go with the regular pasta. Dave proclaimed it, “the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had.”

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I invited my friend Ed and his wife Anne over for dinner last week on a day when I normally don’t go in to the restaurant, thinking I would have the whole day to put together a delicious meal for four. Unfortunately, my schedule changed and I did have to work, leaving me with about two and half hours to put together dinner.

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This beautiful purple kohlrabi had come in my CSA share and I was excited to use it. I asked the chef at Savoy what to do with it and he suggested roasting it and making a salad with wax beans, so I got my hands on some yellow ones. (The green vegetable in the photo is kale, which I didn’t wind up using for this dinner, but I did find a way to incorporate it in a recipe that is to come soon). So, I cut up the kohlrabi, and while it was roasting, set to work on my dessert.

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I didn’t have any business trying to make a short crust and let it rest with such a short timeframe, but I did it anyway. I used a basic tart shell recipe which included flour, a small bit of sugar, butter, an egg yolk, and some ice water. It all came together nice and fast thanks to my food processor. While my dough was resting (in the freezer to try to speed things up a bit), I got to work on my sauce. I had decided to make a halibut dish (currently on the menu at Savoy) that comes with a green garlic puree. After I made the sauce on the stove and pureed it in the blender (sorry, I can’t reveal the recipe for this one), I passed it through my chinoise.

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I let the finished product reduce a bit on the stove and set about blind baking (pre-baking a bit without a filling) the tart shells. First I docked them by pricking them with a fork, and put them in the oven.

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While my crusts were in the oven I blanched my wax beans and whisked together a quick vinaigrette of mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Then I macerated (sprinkled with sugar and let sit for a bit) some sliced apricots. I also made a salad of radish, celery and herbs to go with my fish. When my tart shells came out of the oven and had cooled off a bit, I filled them with the apricot slices and sprinkled on some blueberries. Then they went back into the oven.

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By this point Ed and Anne had already arrived and were sipping wine and chatting with Dave. I had been cooking for about an hour and a half and had 30 minutes left until the time when I had said dinner would be on the table. I was feeling the crunch, but was almost there. I threw together the kohlrabi, beans, and vinaigrette, which I topped with some crumbled goat cheese that I had in the fridge.

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All that remained was to cook the halibut and plate it with the green garlic sauce and salad. Voila.

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I was happy with dinner, considering that I had put it together in such a short amount of time. The tarts, which I served with vanilla ice cream, were tasty but the dough could have rested some more before I baked it. I wasn’t able to get them out of molds (my small tart molds don’t have a removable bottom), but no one seemed displeased.

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Father’s Day feast

My father loves Indian food. So, I decided to make an Indian feast for Father’s Day, and we invited both sets of parents over. A few days before the big meal, I made a list and headed straight for Kalustyan’s. Located in the “Curry Hill” neighborhood, Kalustyan’s stocks every spice, bean, flour, and condiment you could ever want from anywhere in the world, but with a heavy focus on Indian cuisine. The spice corner (see photo, below right), which is just a small portion of the two-story market, was enough to keep me occupied for at least 15-20 minutes.

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I started cooking for the meal the Saturday before Father’s Day. I made dessert first, a pineapple mint sorbet. 

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I cut up the pineapple and mint, blended them with a simple syrup, then chilled the mixture and spun it in my ice cream maker. I used this recipe from The New York Times, but didn’t have a vanilla bean in the house so I used a teaspoon of extract instead. I also added some fresh mint (finely chopped) right before I spun it.

As for the main affair, I made five dishes and some fresh grilled chapatis. 

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Clockwise from top left: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, saffron rice with cardamom (I used brown basmati rice so the saffron color didn’t really come out), chickpeas, tandoori prawns. All of my recipes but the saag paneer came from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Most of the recipes started with some variation of the following: toasting spices and/or sweating down a combination of onion, garlic, and ginger.

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As for the prawn dish, the recipe called for “colossal” shrimp, so I used some tiger shrimp which were the biggest variety I could find. While there is no way to do real tandoori at home, as it requires an ultra hot tandoori oven, the recipe aims to approximate the taste with a thick marinade and on-stove grilling. I used my grill pan and was pretty happy with the results.

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The last element of the dinner was the chapatis. I bought real chapati flour at Kalustyan’s. All that remained was to mix the dough, roll out the flat breads, heat them until they bubbled a bit (I used my two-burner griddle), and then place them on an open flame (I used one of my gas burners) for a second until they puffed up.

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The dinner went well, everyone seemed happy. The pineapple sorbet was the perfect light ending to what was a fairly heavy meal. And, it went brilliantly with our Brazilian dessert plates.

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The night before the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, which I ran yesterday, I had some friends who were also running the race over for a carb-heavy meal.

The most labor-intensive thing I made was a caramelized onion focaccia.

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It’s actually much easier than it may seem, you just need to set aside enough time for the dough to rise. You start out by making a sponge (a mixture of yeast, sweetener, water, and flour that is fermented for a short period of time) and ricing a potato which gets mixed into the dough.

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The sponge after 30 minutes

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I use my food mill to rice the potato that I have cut up and boiled in well-salted water. If you have a potato ricer (which I don’t) you can use that instead. If you don’t have either (which I didn’t until very recently) you can use a fine metal strainer and simply push the soft potato through the holes with the back of a wooden spoon. The potato should come out looking something like this:

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You then mix the potato into the sponge along with warm water, olive oil, and sea salt. Once you have a well incorporated mixture you want to start slowly adding the flour (I use three different kinds: unbleached bread, semolina, and whole wheat pastry), stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.

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At this point you can turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it, adding extra flour as necessary until you have a nice smooth ball of dough. This dough will be slightly stickier than most bread doughs, that’s okay.

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Place your dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise. While your dough is rising you can caramelize your onions. I used the same technique I used when I made my tomato and onion tart, but this time I diced the onion, and added some balsamic vinegar at the end to enrich the flavor.

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Once the dough has risen, punch it down and spread it out onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a half sheet tray. Use the pads of your fingers to give the focaccia its distinctive divots. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise again.

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After the second rise, brush the dough with oil, sprinkle with salt, and cover with onion. Bake, cool, cut, and serve.

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Along with the focaccia, I made some chicken basil meatballs and baked whole wheat penne with homemade tomato red pepper sauce.

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It was a very satisfying meal, and we all ran well the next day.

Focaccia
Ingredients
:
Sponge:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon agave syrup (or honey, or sugar)
2/3 cup warm water (110-130 degrees F)
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour

Dough:
1 small potato, cubed, boiled, and riced
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing dough
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling onto dough
1 cup semolina flour
Mixture of 1 1/2 cups bread flour plus 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Topping(s) of your choice*

Procedure:
1. Whisk together sponge ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 20-30 minutes. (You know the yeast has been activated if you begin to see bubbles form.)

2. Add potato, water, olive oil, and salt to sponge and stir with a wooden spoon. Add semolina flour. Add flour mixture in 1/2 cup increments until dough begins to come together (you may not need to use the entire mixture).

3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, adding more of the flour mixture as necessary (if you use up all 3 cups and you need more, keep adding small handfuls of whole wheat pastry flour) until you have a smooth ball of dough that is slightly sticky, about 5-10 minutes.

4. Place dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough and spread onto a half sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Use the pads of your fingers to created depressions across the surface of the dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise for an additional 15-20 minutes.

5. While dough is rising for the second time, pre-heat oven to 475 degrees F.

6. Brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover with the toppings of your choice.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Slide focaccia off pan onto rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

* You can top your focaccia with whatever you like. Two of my favorites are chopped fresh rosemary (simple, classic) and balsamic caramelized onions (a little more labor, but well worth it).

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I recently reconnected with an old friend from elementary and high school, Larcy, and she came over for dinner earlier this week. I wanted to make something healthy and easy, but still good enough for company. Rhubarb is in season right now and I knew I wanted to make a dessert with it.

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Inspired by a desert special that Savoy is currently running, I decided to go with a rhubarb cornmeal cake. Luckily, Nigella has a recipe for one in How to Be a Domestic Goddess. The recipe was nice and simple.

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You cut up the rhubarb and set it aside with some sugar sprinkled on top. After that you cream together some butter and sugar and add eggs, then alternatively add the dry ingredient mixture and yogurt until you have a thick batter.

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The finished product came out beautifully golden brown.

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For dinner I knew I wanted fish. I arrived at the fish counter at Fairway and saw that they had whole wild red snapper that looked good. When I asked the fish guy to descale it for me but keep the head on, the woman next to me looked at me like I was crazy. I’ve noticed that Americans have an aversion to fish heads. It’s one of the first things my mother said she noticed about American food when she moved here from Japan. I love my fish whole. Some of the best dinners I’ve had have been a whole fish for two picked over by two sets of chopsticks (i.e. my mom and I at home, Lisa and I while in Hong Kong), with a bowl of rice and something green on the side.

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I brought the snapper home and found this recipe on epicurious. I upped the garlic and replaced the butter with olive oil. I also added some tomato to the inside and the top of the fish. The recipe calls for “seafood seasoning,” which I assumed meant something like Old Bay, which I don’t keep in the house. Instead, I improvised my own spice mixture after looking up the components of Old Bay. Here’s what went into my mix:

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Once I had my spice mixture, the hard work was out of the way. All I had to do was season and stuff my snapper and bake it, wrapped in foil, for about 45 minutes.

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The fish was moist and subtly flavored. There was quite a lot of juice in the foil when I unwrapped it, so I used it as a sauce on the side. I served the snapper with brown rice and some sauteed vegetables. The cake was good, though quite rhubarby, and paired excellently with some freshly whipped cream.

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Dave, who began the meal with the proclamation, “I don’t like rhubarb,” loved the cake. He ate it three nights in a row.

Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
From Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess
Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
1 lb 2 oz rhubarb
1 cup sugar, separated
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (the original recipe calls for all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt (I use whole milk yogurt)

Procedure:
1. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Wash and dry the rhubarb if necessary, trim, removing any stringy bits, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Put into a glass or china bowl and cover with 1/3 cup sugar. Don’t let stand for more than 30 minutes or the sugar will make too much liquid seep out.

3. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cornmeal together. With a fork, beat the eggs with the vanilla in a measuring cup or small bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter and the rest of the sugar, then gradually add the egg mixture, beating while you do so. Then add the flour cornmeal mixture alternately with the yogurt. They just need to be combined: don’t overmix.

4. Finally, add the rhubarb together with its sugary, pink juices, folding in to mix, and then pour the speckled batter into the prepared pan. Put in the pre-heated oven and bake for about one hour or until springy to the touch. You may need to cover it with foil after about 40 minutes so that the top doesn’t scorch. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for a while before unmolding.

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Omurice

When I was growing up, my mother didn’t make grilled cheese or chocolate chip cookies, she made rice balls and omurice. A great way to use up day old rice, omurice  consists of stir fried rice, often with chicken, that is seasoned with ketchup (yes, ketchup) and wrapped in a thin layer of fried egg. The smell of the dish alone is enough to conjure up memories of quick weekend dinners thrown together by my mother and thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly.

I hadn’t had omurice in ages (they have it at restaurants in Japan but it’s not something that I deem worth my time during a short visit), until Tuesday night. It was Dave’s first day at his summer job and I had already eaten dinner at the restaurant so I had to put something together for him when he got home. I had some leftover rice that I wanted to use up, but I wanted to branch out from the usual “kitchen sink” fried rice that I throw together. When I saw the bottle of ketchup on the door of the fridge it all became clear.

First, I minced and sauteed some onion, then stirred in the rice and a hefty squirt of organic ketchup. You can add chicken, veggies, whatever you like.

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After that, I beat together two eggs, salt, pepper, and a dash of cold water. I then added the mixture to a hot, well-oiled non-stick skillet and moved it around with a rubber spatula until it formed a thin layer around the entire pan.

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All that remained was to turn off the flame, add the rice, and fold the egg over to cover.

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Gently slide the finished omurice onto a plate and garnish with a bit of ketchup. My mom always used the garnish ketchup and wrote the letter “A” on my omurice, but I thought that Dave was a little old for that. You can serve it with a side of salad to add a bit of color to the plate.

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I cannot tell a lie, I stole the first bite. It brought me back to simpler times. Yum.

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Post script: When I Googled omurice I came across this amazing video. While I don’t agree with its use of a bullion cube or creamer, it shows you some good techniques. The dog-as-host thing is quite odd, though “his” voice gets stuck in my head and I find myself chuckling to myself whenever I think about it.

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Last supper in Japan

Our last dinner in Tokyo was delivered to my grandmother’s door on the back of a motorcycle.

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These beautiful boxes were put in our care with the expectation that we would wash them out and leave them outside the front door the next day to be picked up. Only in Japan. What came in these lacquerware containers? Unajuu.

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That’s rice topped with eel (unagi) that has been grilled in a sweet sauce. We paired it with the pickled cucumber and radish that came from the unagi restaurant and spinach with sesame dressing made by my aunt. We definitely saved one of the best meals for last.

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Dessert was even better. One of my top three favorite foods:

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The watermelon in Japan — which is just now beginning to hit supermarket shelves in Tokyo — is some of the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. I couldn’t think of a better finale to our Japanese eat-a-thon.

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