Friday, February 26, 2010

Food RULES!!!

For the most part on this blog, I try to keep it fun and light.  Cooking and food are passions of mine - and a big part of my life, my family, and my relationships.  It makes me happy to create food, and share it with the people I care about...and build relationships with readers, other bloggers, and meet like-minded foodies and home cooks.

But now I'm going to get up on the soapbox for a minute.  I promise I won't do this often.  (This makes me think of those times in middle school when someone in one of those performance troupes would say "hey, let's rap about this for a minute" then turn a chair around and sit on it backwards - and then you would talk about saying no to drugs or something....which reminds me of a episode of Family Guy....but I digress....)

I recently read a post on Kate in the Kitchen that started a discussion of Michael Pollan's  Food Rules, and also detailed her own 'food rules' .  It just got me thinking.  I think it is remarkable how much she does to ensure that she is giving her family the best possible food in terms of nutrition and low processing....and its just the tip of the iceberg of what she would like to do!! I think she delved very well into a very interesting part of the food dialogue. And I think - as a lover of food (food RULES!) it's my responsibility to use my forum to talk about it too.

I invite you to browse over to her site and read a little bit more about her 'food rules'.  Then come back and leave me a comment!  I want to know more about your 'food rules'.  What are some things that you do to control the food that you bring into your home, your body, and the food that you feed to your family and friends.  This is a no-judgement zone because there is no 'right' answer.  It's whatever you deem important and what works for you...and if you don't have rules, that's fine too!  I just want to hear your thoughts.

I'll start...
  • I *try* to eat as little processed food as possible.  Since I do cook a lot of rich meals and side dishes, I prefer for that to be my indulgence...I like to know exactly what is in my food because I put it there.  
  • I avoid processed foods with high fructose corn syrup and trans fat.  
    • I avoid the HFHC's primarily because I have a really low tolerance to sugar and even a little bit makes me go on a chocolate chip cookie BINGE...I don't even add sugar to coffee or tea.  
  • I try and take a lunch to work every day - both for health reasons and money saving reasons; but I do slip sometimes during busy times, and just try to make the best choice from what is available.  
  • I strive to have a few meatless meals a week; and I encourage those around me to do the same
  • I like to eat all my veggies and fruits for the day....and then I don't feel so bad about all the butter :)
  • I want to eat less mass-produced meats (this is new after watching Food Inc)
  • I don't drink soda - maybe 1 cup every couple months.  Just never was a fan - more of a water/milk type of gal
I realize that there are a lot of qualifiers in there, but its life.  You can't be perfect all of the time.  The best any of us can be is aware of our choices, how they effect our bodies, how they effect the environment.  And make the best choices we can for ourselves in most circumstances

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ricotta Gnocchi

Sometimes I am blessed with the perfect combination of inspiration and necessity.  Saturday I went to visit my coworker - no longer pregnant, but also blessed with a beautiful baby girl. 

Being the good Portuguese girl that I am, I had to bring food.  I wanted to make something that she could just heat up a serving at a time - or warm it up for a quick meal for her and her fiance.  I made a quick and simple lasagna with turkey sausage and spinach.

Shaw's had ricotta on sale, and the biggest one was cheaper than the small one!! JACKPOT - Also being a good Portuguese girl meant that I had to buy the cheapest one.  Of course, that left me with more ricotta than I knew what to do with.

Once the lasagna was delivered I did a quick search for 'ricotta' on  hmm...ricotta tart, ricotta gelati, ricotta cheesecake.  I had already mixed it with some spinach for the lasagna, so a sweet application was out of the question.  Then - poof - the light bulb of inspiration!  Gnocchi!  I perused a few recipes for basic technique, then I winged it.

I had to start a day early and drain the I also made the sauce a day early so I could just finish up everything for a quick-ish weeknight meal.  I've seen this particular sauce making the blog rounds.  Once Deb on Smitten Kitchen (she has no idea how much I idolize her) gave it her kudos I worked up the courage.  It just sounded so simple.  Can of tomatoes, 5 tablespoons of butter, and an onion - sliced in half.  Let it simmer for 45 minutes, crush up tomatoes against the pot with a spoon, and voila - a beautiful, simple tomato sauce.

After a post-work gym trip, I started on my gnocchi:

To the ricotta spinach mixture I added salt, cayenne, nutmeg, an egg, and about a half cup of flour...
mix and chill

Next, I rolled the mix into balls, and then tossed them in some flour....

cover and chill again...this time for about 15 minutes

Then I dropped them in some boiling water

Once they floated to the top they were done...but I figured it was too good to be true.  So I tasted one.  It was a perfect, light, little cheese ball. 

In a skillet on another burner I had been warming some of the tomato sauce.  I quickly drained my little cheese clouds, and dropped them in the sauce. 

Not only were these ABSOLUTELY delicious...I had everything on hand to make them -- I didn't buy a single ingredient!  I can't tell you how many times an unfortunate container of ricotta has gone past its 'use by' date in the back of my fridge while I try to figure out what to do with it.  Never again.

What is your favorite dish to make with leftover ingredients?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pan Seared Scallops

One semester in law school down! Five more to go....
Rafe did great in his first semester!  I was so proud of how hard he worked to keep up with reading and assignments, and during finals he was ALL business.  He didn't know all of his grades until after he started classes for second semester....
After learning how well he had done, I thought it was only fitting that we celebrate with a special meal.  I asked Rafe what he was craving, since it was his special dinner.  I thought he would ask for a brisket or a pork roast - but he had eaten so much rich food over the holidays, he just wanted a simple broiled piece of fish.  Well, of course I was going to do what he wanted -- it was his treat....but BORING!

While I was at the grocery store picking up his fish I saw some gorgeous sea scallops.  I couldn't pass them up - so I got a half pound to cook up as an appetizer to our broiled fish entree.  I love sea scallops (they're the big guys - not to be confused with bay scallops) - they're tender, sweet, and they cook up in a matter of minutes...unfortunately they're usually a bit pricey - but for a special occasion, and an appetizer portion, they are definitely good for a splurge.

I like my sea scallops pretty simply prepared - just a simple pan sear and some fresh herbs.  I don't like to use much sauce or anything too overpowering...I would hate to cover up the perfect briny sweetness of a fresh scallop!

These guys were really quick to make.  While I melted a pat of butter in a frying pan over medium high, I patted the scallops dry with a paper towel.  If they aren't dry they won't get a good sear.  Then I sprinkled them with salt, garlic powder, and a little dusting of cayenne pepper.  Once the butter was just starting to bubble I gently placed the scallops in the pan one by one - leaving a little space between each one to make sure they didn't steam.

My biggest issue with scallops is that they are often overcooked.  They don't need very much time in the pan.  In fact, I wouldn't walk away once they're in the pan.  If you look closely you can see the the scallop meat turning opaque as it cooks - the opaque coloring will start to work its way up from the bottom of the scallop through toward the top.  One it is just before the halfway point - flip them over. 

They'll cook even quicker on the other side.  They won't need any more than 2 minutes on this side.  Take them off just before they are entirely opaque (they will finish cooking through as they sit). 
I put them on a simple paper plate, chopped some chives and parsley over them....and Rafe and I dug in.
The seasonings on the surface created a toothsome crust which gave way to the sweet, tender meat of the scallop.  The herbs and light squeeze of lemon gave a fresh POP to the outside.

Scallops are pretty expensive for a whole entree - but sometimes you can catch a sale...better yet - make a little appetizer portion as a treat.  Scallops are fairly healthy (until you sear them in butter I suppose) so there are definitely worse things to blow your money on!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Birthday Dinner - Henrietta's Table

I had a super birthday dinner.
Although I thought it would start with dinner - It actually started while I was still at work.  Instead of cake my coworkers brought in red wine and delicious cheese and crackers.  So much better than cake after a long day! 

After I sobered up a bit with some coffee, Rafe and I headed to dinner at Henrietta's table in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.  I've always been curious to try Henrietta's table because of their motto of 'Fresh From the Farm and Honest to Goodness Home Cooking' - or simply 'Fresh and Honest'.

Upon arriving we were seated in a corner booth - These are my absolute favorite because Rafe and I can sit next to each other and look out onto the restaurant.  It always feels so cozy to sit next to your guy on a nice night out.  As we sat down we were given 3 different menus: a dinner menu, a drink menu - and a cheese menu!!

I was a bit overwhelmed by all the options at first - but decided to start with a cocktail.  I love dirty martini's and bloody mary's, so the dirty bloody martini was the perfect start for me:
House infused pepper vodka, dry vermouth, clamato juice, olive juice, olives
The restaurant has a big, beautiful bar area right when you walk into the restaurant.  If you are ever in Harvard Square, just browsing, I recommend just popping in for this drink...I know I'll be stopping by in the future when I'd like a midday drink!  Rafe ordered his favorite Harpoon IPA.

We started perusing the cheese menu, and suddenly one of the nicest birthday presents arrived at our table: a complimentary cheese board.  We were given 3 samples to try: Bijou, a pasteurized goat cheese from VT; Aly's Eclipse, another goat's milk cheese from MA; and Duet, a pairing of aged cheddar and cave aged blue fro MN.  I liked tasting the two goat's milk cheeses side by side - goat's milk cheese are often so delicate that you don't get to appreciate the nuances, but side by side you could really taste how complex they were.  Rafe loved the combination of the assertive cheddar with the blue - he's starting to come around on blue cheeses!  All the cheeses at Henrietta's table are served with preserves, cranberry walnut melba toast, and fresh/dried fruits.

For appetizers, Rafe had the Maine Rock crab and corn chowder with smoked bacon.  I had a bite and it was good - I went for a second bite....and the soup was gone - Rafe was very hungry and the soup hit the spot!  Originally I was going to order the simple spinach salad as my starter...but right before we ordered, Rafe asked me what I thought the Pastrami Salmon was like....and I decided, what the heck - that does sound inventive.  I'm glad I changed my mind.  I love pastrami, I love smoked salmon - this was win-win.  The crispy potato's were waffle-cut, crispy and salty.  And I LOVED the lemony creme fraiche.

While we waited for our entrees we looked around at the space a little bit more.  The interior is decorated like a nice country farm house.  The hardwood floors are beautiful, and the molding on the walls and ceilings are beautiful.  There are also large-print black and white photographs along the walls - some of farms and fields.  The open kitchen just added to the honesty of Henrietta's kitchen - I liked being able to look up and see chef's preparing the meals for the guests. 

For dinner, Rafe had the duck: house maple smoked and grilled free range duck breast, confit leg, cranberry compote, port wine reduction.  I had the lamb: barbeque ale braised elysian field farms pulled lamb shank, local wilted greens, native beans, crispy ntirate free smoked bacon.  We also ordered a side of 1/2 root veggies, and 1/2 roasted potatoes - both were locally grown.  The flavor of Rafe's duck was great. It was tender and juicy.  We both wished that the skin had been rendered a bit more, as it was pretty fatty - and what is better than crispy duck skin?  The lamb was great - very rustic.  All the pulled meat on a plate, topped with thick bacon, creamy beans and greens.  It was very tender and comforting.  I paired my meal with a delicious pinot noir - it was recommended by the waiter, and it complimented the meat very well.

We were exceptionally full after dinner.  But I had heard so much about the chocolate bread pudding that I didn't care...I was ordering it.  It was my day afterall (poor Rafe I know).  I really liked the desert.  It wasn't cloyingly sweet chocolate, but the banana's and the sauce were - so each bite I took had a nice contrast of dark chocolate, and sweet was a great ending to a great dinner.

In addition to enjoying the food, I love that I know where my dinner came from.  This is a luxury that I usually get at home since I get my produce from Boston Organics, but I was very impressed with the detail of the menu and the care that clearly went into developing the recipes.  This wasn't the fanciest meal I've ever had.  The food was cozy, homestyle and rustic.  The atmosphere at Henrietta's table was fantastic.  It was simple, good food served in an beautiful, but unpretentious space. 

I plan to head back again and purchase the restaurant's cookbook "Fresh and Honest" and to enjoy Henrietta's Yard Sale.  Sunday-Thursday you can order any 3 courses for $32, or any 2 courses for $25.  Anyone want to join me?

Henrietta's Table on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Biscuit with Bacon, Cheddar, and Chives

I felt I needed to post this recipe immediately - before everyone finalized plans for their valentine's day menus.  If you need bread, a side, want to make your honey brunch or what have you - stop what you're doing and make these biscuits!

I know what you're thinking...biscuits aren't chocolate, they don't scream romance, they're rustic and a little misshapen (at least mine are).  It doesn't matter.  They are delicious, tender, and filled with bacon, cheddar and chives.  Most of the men I know would go gaga for these.  Rafe actually called them 'tremendous'.

Last weekend Rafe made his usual pilgrimidge to the library, and I snuggled up with my bon-appetit for an hour or so.  I saw the picture of these biscuits in the magazine and knew I MUST add the ingredients to the grocery list. 

I've tried to make biscuits before - and I've always failed miserably.  Biscuits used to be my white-whale...but these were super easy to prepare.  Toss the dry ingredients in the food processor, add in your butter.  Add to a bowl with the chopped bacon, shredded cheese and chives - add buttermilk and bake.  Super simple!

I brought them to dinner at my parent's house - and they were gobbled up.  The combination of the salty pork, the creamy cheesy and the oniony chives are an obvious win-win-win.  I have one left that I'm saving for breakfast for my birthday tomorrow.

The recipe is featured on epicurious....BISCUITS Just a note - if you live near a whole foods pick up their black forest bacon - its outrageous.  The recipe calls for 6 strips of bacon - so ask the butcher for 8....Just in case you're anything like me and cannot resist crispy bacon.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New Years Eve - Beef Tenderloin

Sorry I've been so quiet lately!  Work has been extremely busy - lots of big projects, and my coworker is on maternity leave, so its a little hectic.  I think I'm finally getting into a groove and will do my best to begin posting more frequently.  I will appease you with my New Years dinner.  It was ahhhhmazing.

I can't believe we're already more than a month into the new year!  I feel like this meal wasn't that long ago - or maybe it was so good its just lingering in my memory?

For New Year's Eve 2008 Rafe and I had stayed in rather than attend a party or head to a bar.  I made shortribs, we rented a movie, and drank wine and champagne.
It was the best New Years ever!  So we decided to do it again for New Year's Eve 2009.  Instead of shortribs however, I wanted to make something I've never done before.

A trip over to epicurious and the solution was clear. A beef tenderloin. It was fancy (and expensive!) enough for a special occasion, it would have the flavor of a good filet, with the ease of cooking of a roast. I decided I wanted to do a play on Rafe's favorite steak, steak au poivre, and serve a peppercorn crusted roast with a brandy cream sauce for accompaniment.

I was at home in Western MA when I came to the conclusion about the main course, so my father kindly accompanied me over to the best meat shop in the area - Arnold's in Chicopee MA. This place services a bunch of restaurants in the area, and the butcher shop is great. The folks are helpful, and the prices are usually better than a grocery store. I had the butcher cut my roast into 2 pieces. Since it would just be Rafe and I for dinner, I figured we could get two meals for our investment....The other piece went into the freezer for a later date.

Last year's dinner of shortribs was much more of a time committment than this recipe. Around 5pm, I pulled the meat out of the fridge to take the chill off of it while Rafe and I chopped up the veggies and herbs. I love fresh rosemary with a roast, so we chopped up about a tablespoon of the stuff.
Rafe mashed up the garlic with some salt.

I patted the roast dry, then rubbed it with the garlic/salt mixture. Then rubbed the meat with 2 tablespoons of cracked peppercorns and sprinkled the surface with the rosemary. (I can't seem to find a picture of it!) Then I put the meat on a rack in a roasting pan, and shoved it into the oven at 400.

I chopped some carrots and potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt, pepper and rosemary and put them in the oven to join the beef.

Then we cracked a bottle of wine. This was from our trip to Sonoma in June. I think this was the last of the CA wine.
While we sipped, Rafe toasted pecans for the salad.
And I measured all the ingredients for the brandy cream sauce. It comes together pretty quickly, so I decided to start the sauce when the meat came out to rest.
In about 50 minutes, the tenderloin was medium rare in the middle. We took it out of the oven and tented it with foil, and I got started on the brandy cream sauce. I started by sweating some onions in melted butter.

I then deglazed the pan with brandy, and cooked stirring until the alcohol had cooked off. Then I added the cream and some salt and pepper.

Oh baby, just looking at the pictures is bringing me back there! So yummy!

I can't seem to get this picture to flip!

The potatoes and carrots were perfectly roasted.

And the meat was tender and flavorful....Even though I had the butcher cut use two smaller roasts, we still has a ton of leftovers. I've never craved leftovers like this. Even a day or two later, and after a quick blast in the microwave, the meat was still tender and full of flavor. I honestly think that you have to work pretty hard to screw this roast up!

I can't wait to cook up the other half!