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Monday, June 30, 2008

grilled salmon with basil aioli

grilled salmon with basil aioli

What I'm about to tell you is a true story, and hopefully no one will get in trouble for it... The other day my neighbor, who works for a major airline here in Atlanta, knocked frantically on my door. She was holding a plastic bag and practically jumping with excitement. What's was in the bag? Fresh salmon fillets, each about 3 pounds, that were flown in that morning from Alaska. Why was she holding them? Because the crate they were flown in on (via a competing airline) had fallen to the ground during cargo unloading, and my neighbor was kind enough (devious enough?) to sneak several fillets away before the competition noticed they were missing. She was generous enough to share one of these with me. I have to say that it was, hands down, the best piece of salmon I have ever had. I just grilled it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and made this basil aioli featured in July's Bon Appetit. On the side I made grilled polenta squares and a little caprese salad (to use up an avocado and some extra tomato and mozzarella I had leftover). It was the perfect summer meal.

Grocery list: salmon fillet (2-3 pounds), mayo, anchovy paste, basil, garlic, red wine vinegar, worcestershire. For the avocado caprese, tomatoes, basil, avocado, mozzarella, balsamic, good quality olive oil. For the polenta cakes, just polenta and parmesan.

basil aioli

The original recipe calls for making your own mayo as the base for this aioli. Considering my past disasters with attempting homemade mayo, I decided to pass on this extra step and use good old-fashioned hellman's. Mix together one cup of mayo mixed with a few T of chopped basil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp each of red wine vinegar and worcestershire, plus 1 1/2 tsp anchovy paste, mixed together with a dash of hot sauce.

polenta to grill

On the side, I made a simple grilled polenta. Cook your polenta according to the package directions, season well with salt & pepper, then spread into a thin layer in a pan, about an inch thick. Make sure you brush the pan with olive oil well first; then allow the polenta to harden as it cools (refrigerate to speed up the process). Invert the pan over a cutting board, cut into squares, brush with more olive oil, then grill over med-high heat.

avocado caprese salad

I also cubed some leftover mozzarella, an heirloom tomato and an avocado, plus a handful of torn basil leaves. Tossed with some good olive oil and a few drops of balsamic, this made a great contrast in texture to the polenta and salmon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

burger review: gourmet magazine's aussie burger

aussie burger

I think I recently read about Aussie burgers in several places (other food blogs? - no google blog search can help me find this so far), and then it popped up again right in the July issue of Gourmet magazine. In my quest to eat every possible combination of burger toppings at least once in my life, this went to the top of the list of recipes to try from this issue. I like the grilled pineapple, but think it could be better utilized as a contrast to something spicy - maybe like a jerk sauce for the burger, or spicy jack cheese? We all agreed that the sliced beets are just too weird; they add sogginess and stained fingers without a lot of flavor. The "chile mayo" (just chile paste, mayo and ketchup) was definitely great, and could be used to dip fries and onion rings in if you were making them and didn't feel the fat content was quite high enough... And the fried egg was absolutely fantastic. Next time I'll try that with bacon and cheese (which would actually be a burger called "the coronary bypass", as made famous by the Vortex restaurant here in Atlanta).

There's no real recipe here, so the typical "grocery list" I usually include is basically all the ingredients you'd use to assemble the burgers. I like to make my burgers with ground sirloin, about 1/3 pound meat for each patty. Other ingredients: pineapple (sliced, then grilled), sliced beets, lettuce, tomato, one fried egg per burger, and plenty of chile mayo slathered on both sides of a toasted bun.

chile mayo

Side note: chile mayo is simply equal parts mayo and ketchup (1/4 cup each made enough for 4 burgers), plus a teaspoon of chile paste.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

green 3 cheese ravioli + tomato sauce with garlic and basil ("alla carrettiera")

spinach ravioli with tomato garlic sauce

In Marcella Hazan's "essentials of classic italian cooking", she talks about the "only" 2 ways to EVER make fresh pasta dough: basic egg pasta (covered numerous times, albeit imperfectly, on this blog), and "green" pasta. Green pasta incorporates fresh spinach right into the dough - and why did I think I needed even more of a challenge? It's not like I've perfected pasta in the first place, so why make it more complicated? Because after steaming, draining and mincing the spinach, and adding it to egg and flour, there was nothing but a soggy sad mess on my counter. I was THIS close to wiping it all straight into the disposal. But then I added a little more flour and started kneading. And then more flour, more kneading. After a few minutes, I had this bright green ball of pasta dough, ready for rolling. Who knew? So if you try this recipe, expect it to get very ugly before you see anything that resembles a potential dinner. And if the idea of slaving over green pasta isn't appealing - just try this sauce. Wow.

Grocery list: (pasta) 10oz fresh spinach, 2 cups flour, 3 eggs; ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella cheeses plus parsley and 1 egg for the filling. For the sauce, 1 large bunch fresh basil, 2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes or 2 cups canned imported italian plum tomatoes, 5 cloves garlics, 5 T olive oil.

spinach pasta 2

After making a regular batch of egg pasta dough, you mash in the minced spinach, cooked and drained as dry as possible (any extra moisture is going to make it impossible to knead the dough). Keep adding flour and kneading it till the texture is familiar, and the dough isn't sticking to your skin.

spinach pasta

Then, you know the drill - break the pasta dough into 6 equal portions, and roll with the pasta machine. Each strip needs to be fed through the pasta machine 6-7 times before it's ready to start rolling through the thinner and thinner settings. When you've got the pasta strips rolled out, set each one on a dry dish towel to rest. Drying at least 10 minutes on the towels will help the dough not stick together when you make the ravioli.

3 cheese filling for ravioli

The filling for this is as simple as it gets - equal parts mozzarella (shredded), ricotta, and grated parmesan, with 1 beaten egg, and a handful of chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.

filling spinach ravioli

To fill the ravioli, spoon bits of filling along one side of each strip of pasta. Then, you fold over the pasta strip and press the dough in between each dollop of filling (this will make one long strip of raviolis, which you just have to cut apart). Cut, then press the tines of a fork around the edges to make sure the edges won't burst at the seams when cooking.

poaching garlic in tomatoes

This sauce doesn't start the usual way (by sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil as a base, then adding the rest). You actually put the can of tomatoes and a few T of olive oil right into the pan, THEN turn on the heat. Break up the tomatoes while the pan heats up. Chop the garlic (at least 5 cloves if not more), then add to the tomatoes. You want the heat just so the liquid from the tomatoes is barely simmering, not popping and boiling like crazy. The idea is to poach the garlic - it retains the flavor but becomes more fragrant and rich as opposed to potent (hard to describe). The juice will slowly cook out, till you have a thick almost syrupy consistency. After about 15 minutes, add handfuls of torn basil leaves, keeping a few aside to top the pasta with later.

tomato garlic basil sauce

The sauce will be done after about 20-25 minutes. Cook the pasta (fresh ravioli takes about 3 minutes) in boiling salted water, drain and mix with the sauce. This sauce is great because it really coats the pasta, much different than fresh tomato sauce. Top with grated parmesan and a little more fresh torn basil.

Monday, June 23, 2008

one more thing to love about weekends: ABLT egg sandwiches

breakfast BLT with egg and avocado

Bacon, egg whites, lettuce, heirloom tomato slices, mayo, extra sharp cheddar, all on a toasted bun. How could you NOT have the best Sunday ever?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

thai green curry chicken

thai green curry chicken

In viewing this blog, you could probably infer that I only like Italian food, and Americanized interpretations of Italian, at that. But what I cook is an inaccurate representation of what I love to eat - if I want good Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, or anything more adventurous, I go out (blog entries are not daily for a reason). But a few weeks ago our good friends Karel and Talia had us over for dinner, and Talia whipped up some red coconut curry seemingly effortlessly. Not only did it seem approachable, but it was also delicious. Ever since, I've been thinking about how I might need to forget about the disaster that was my one experiment with phad thai (HORRIBLE waste of 3 hours in the kitchen), and try this whole Thai thing again. I found a few recipes on Epicurious and one from Tyler Florence that I was able to work together. It would have still been easier to go to Thai Palate for some take out, but it was great, I knew exactly what was in it, so I'm marking this one down as a win. See what you think...

Grocery list: 1+ pound boneless, skinless chicken (cut into bite-size chunks), green curry paste (found at my local farmers market, but available any grocery store), 1 can coconut milk, chicken broth, 1 onion & 1 bell pepper chopped, 1 eggplant peeled and chopped, minced fresh ginger, cilantro, basil.

chicken and vegetables for curry

In a large heavy skillet or dutch oven, heat a few T oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant, onion and pepper, and saute for 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add about 1 T fresh minced ginger, and 2 T green curry paste (this will make 1 - 1 1/2 pounds chicken pretty spicey - you may want to use less curry paste the first time, or read the label to see what kind of ratio they recommend). Stir to coat the paste on the vegetables and cook for another couple minutes.

green curry

Add 1 can coconut milk and about 1 cup of chicken broth and stir well; season with salt. Lay the chicken pieces in the pot so they can poach in the hot liquid. Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Before serving over rice, stir in the juice of one lime plus handfuls of chopped basil and cilantro.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

is it summer in atlanta or winter in northern italy?

braised roast and artichoke risotto

This is what I made for dinner last night: roast beef braised in red wine and artichoke risotto. Makes perfect sense for a 93 degree day in Atlanta...?? Let me explain. Last week I was in Sri Lanka (yes, I sandbag my blog posts sometimes), and although the food was delicious, I missed red meat, my beloved Italian food, and most of all, COOKING. So I figured I would make a few favorites for dinner last night, not caring if I heated up the oven (and the rest of the loft) for 3 hours roasting meat, or having to stand over a boiling pot stirring chicken broth constantly for 45 minutes. And I'm so glad I did.

Grocery list: (for the roast) 2-4 pounds roast (I used a 2 pound local eye of round roast), 1-2 vidalia onions, handful peeled garlic cloves, some carrots, rosemary, sage or bay leaves, beef stock, 1 bottle red wine; (for the risotto) 2 cups arborio rice, 1 quart chicken stock, 1/2 to 1 jar marinated artichokes, parmesan cheese, butter, olive oil, white wine (1/2 - 1 cup), 2 cloves garlic, 1 small white onion finely chopped, 1 lemon.

searing roast beef

This whole dinner started with an incident at the meat counter at WF. I was standing there waiting for another cut of meat I ordered, when I noticed this pile of different types of roasts from a local butcher. One of them, an eye of round roast, seemed to be looking at me directly, saying "cook me, cook me!". True story. So I asked the butcher to tie him up, although I've never cooked this cut of meat before. After a little googling, I found this great recipe from Lidia's Italy on Epicurious. I actually had a bottle of Barolo in my wine cellar (AKA bathroom closet), but it was too expensive to cook with so I went with a Shiraz. Making this Italian-Australian roast beef. Anyway, start by seasoning the meat on all sides with salt and pepper, then sear it in a dutch oven over med-high heat in olive oil.

vegetables for roast beef

Once the meat has been seared on all sides (about 1 minute per side), remove it from the pan, add a little more olive oil, then cook the vegetables. I used 2 small vidalia onions, quartered, and half a bag of baby carrots, plus 6-8 whole garlic cloves. The original recipe calls for celery too, but I skipped it. After a few minutes, add a whole sprig of rosemary and a couple of sage or bay leaves. Make a little space for the roast and return it to the pan.

braising beef in wine

Pour in a bottle of wine, and then add beef stock (1-2 cups), enough to go up the sides of the roast about halfway. Heat on the stove until the liquid is steaming but not boiling, then move to an oven and roast at 250 degrees. Every 30 minutes, flip the roast over. For a 2 pound roast, you could cook this for 2-2 1/2 hours; for a larger 4-6 pound roast, the recipe says you can cook for 4 - 4 1/2 hours. A meat thermometer would really help here (I don't have one and ended up overcooking the meat a bit).

frying rice for risotto

During the last 30 minute rotation for the roasting meat, I made the risotto. I make these fairly often actually and have never followed a recipe. Last night I wanted something with a salty kick to go with the meat - something with olives or lemons maybe. When I saw the recipe for lemon and artichoke risotto from Jamie Oliver's cookbook, I knew it would be perfect. As with all risottos, you start by sauteing the onion and garlic in olive oil until softened.

risotto with parmesan

Next, add 2 cups arborio rice and stir to coat the rice with the olive oil. Turn the heat up to med-high and keep stirring. The rice will start to fry and turn slightly translucent - that's when you add about a glass of white wine (1/2 - 1 cup). While this is absorbing, heat the chicken stock so it's hot but not boiling. Add a ladle of the stock at a time to the rice, stirring frequently. Allow the stock to absorb before adding the next ladleful. When you've added it all, the rice should be a smooth creamy texture (takes 15-20 minutes). Turn off the heat and add 2-4 T butter and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan. Cover and let stand for a couple of minutes. Then stir, season with salt and pepper, and add the zest and juice of 1 lemon and some chopped artichokes. Jamie's recipe calls for cooking fresh artichokes during the rice-cooking phase, but I didn't miss cooking *that* much - I went with a nice jar of marinated artichokes from the farmers market.

wine braised beef

When the roast is as done as you like it, remove it from the oven and set to rest on a cutting board. Scoop out the vegetables and place on a long serving dish. Move the pan on the stove and heat the braising liquid till boiling - keep cooking it till it is reduced to a syrupy consistency. Slice the roast beef on the diagonal and lay on top of the vegetables; spoon the sauce over top.

Monday, June 16, 2008

tagliatelle with spinach

spinach pasta

This is a simple recipe from The Silver Spoon, a huge cookbook that proclaims itself "Italy's best selling cookbook for 50 years" (I don't know if this is true, but it the several of the 2000+ recipes I've tried so far have been great). I'm always looking for new ways to dress up fresh pasta, so I have more motivation to keep practicing.  This is an excellent recipe for just that purpose.  (And I promise I've had more to eat in the last few days than just carbs -- will try to post something other than pasta next!)

Grocery list: butter, 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, 1 onion, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, 1 batch fresh tagliatelle, 1 cup heavy cream.

picture of the pasta
tagliatelle homemade

Start by cooking the fresh spinach in boiling water for 4-5 minutes; drain well and chop. Finely chop the onion. Heat 2-3 T butter in a heavy skillet, then cook the onion over medium-low heat until softened (5-10 minutes).

ricotta onions spinach

Add the spinach and cook for a couple more minutes; season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle half of the parmesan. I veered away from the recipe by stirring in about 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese at this point, to add a little more protein and creamy texture (it was delicious).

Cook the tagliatelle in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and return to the pan and toss with 2 T of butter. Grease a lasagna pan with butter, then assemble the dish. Layer the cooked tagliatelle with the spinach mixture and sprinkles of remaining parmesan, finishing with a top layer of spinach.

spinach pasta baked

Pour 1 cup of heavy cream over the top, sprinkle the rest of the parmesan, then cook in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until bubbling and the top starts to brown.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

more fun with homemade pasta: fettuccine alla trapanese

almond pesto with tomatoes

I think I'm starting to make some good progress with homemade pasta... This time, I went back to my new favorite obsession (Jamie's Italy) for inspiration. Jamie describes this as the Trapanese method for making pesto sauce (although Marcella Hazan vehemently denies that pesto can be made with anything other than pine nuts, olive oil, basil, and parmesan). It was delicious, although I was more proud of how the fettuccine turned out - finally, I was able to make a batch without any real problems!

Grocery list: 1 pound dried spaghetti (I used 1 pound fresh fettuccine), 5 oz almonds, 1 clove garlic, 4 handfuls fresh basil leaves, 5 oz freshly grated parmesan, 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, halved.

tagliatelle homemade

In a food processor, you crush the almonds until they are a coarse powder, then pulse in the garlic (I used 2 or 3 cloves instead of 1) and the basil, then add in the parmesan. While pulsing the food processor, stream in olive oil steadily till it is the right consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Hand crush the tomatoes into the pesto sauce. Cook the pasta and mix everything together in a large serving bowl.

Monday, June 9, 2008

lamb and beef burgers with caper remoulade


As you might have noticed by now, I'm pretty obsessed with Food & Wine magazine. When the June issue arrived last month with the theme of "best new grilling ideas," I flipped - burgers are my favorite food. These burgers were almost light - the caper remoulade, the cucumber and tomato slices, and the fact that the bun was replaced with a much lighter english muffin - there was less "heft" than a normal burger. That being said, it took absolutely no longer than the usual prep time for burgers, so this will go into the summer menu rotation for sure.
Grocery list: 1/2 pound ground sirloin, 1/2 pound ground lamb, english muffins, parsley, capers, cornichons (or dill pickles), garlic, mayo, grain mustards, cheddar, cucumber (english cucumber, AKA seedless), tomato.

capers parsley garlic

Of course I had to mess with the remoulade recipe, to cut down on the fat content. By reducing the original amount of mayo and increasing the mustard, it was more tangy, but still made plenty of sauce for all the burgers. In a food processor, pulse 1 garlic cloves, 2 tsp drained capers, 3 T of parsley leaves, and 4 cornichons (or 4 baby dill pickles). Then add 1/4 cup mayo and 2 T grain mustard, and blend for a few seconds.
caper remoulade

Stir with a spatula until smooth, then place in the fridge until ready to dress the burgers. To make the burgers, mix together the lamb and beef in a bowl with plenty of salt and pepper. Shape into 3-4 patties.
Next, start the grill. Split the english muffins, then grill on each side for 30 seconds until toasted. Grill the burgers over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes per side until done -- add slices of cheddar 2 minutes before done so it will melt. While the burgers are cooking, spread the remoulade on each english muffin. Top the bottom muffins with a slice of tomato, then the burger, then 2-3 slices of cucumber.

Friday, June 6, 2008

greatest steak marinade of all time (really)

hanger steak salad

This simple grilled hangar steak salad was inspired by a menu item at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Murphy's, in Atlanta's Virginia Highland neighborhood (there's features a flank steak, but I've been wanting to try hangar steak for some time now). Here's what I learned: stop whatever you are preparing for dinner tonight, and try this marinated steak. It might be the best marinade I've ever had.

Grocery list: flank or hangar steak (about 2 pounds), balsamic vinegar, worcestershire sauce, brown sugar. If you're making a salad, well, also add greens, avocado, cucumbers, roasted onions, or whatever salad stuff you want. The steak will be all that matters anyway...

marinating hangar steaks

For the marinade, it's simply 1 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/4-1/2 cup worcestershire sauce. Submerge the steaks as best as you can in the marinade, turning occasionally, and allow to soak for at least a couple of hours. Then, grill over medium-high heat till the steaks are as done as you like. Allow them to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes, then slice on the diagonal. Really, the best steak I've had in a while...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

strawberry pie

finished strawberry pie

This pie was featured in the June 2008 issue of Gourmet magazine - and the editors raved about it. I decided to try it because (a) there's an influx of local fresh strawberries down at WF right now (b) A loves cut strawberries with desserts, so I figured he'd like this and (c) a reasonably healthy, chilled, refreshing dessert for 95-degree-Atlanta weather. The reality: the recipe took a lot longer than described, and the finished pie was gorgeous but fell completely apart when serving. Maybe it needed more gelatin to hold everything together, and maybe I should have buttered the pie pan so the crust would release a little more easily. A did love it though, and it certainly was a refreshing change of pace from heavier desserts I've made recently.

Grocery list: (crust) 1 5-oz package shortbread cookies, 2 T sugar, 2 T cold unsalted butter; (filling) 2 pounds strawberries, hulled, 3/4 c sugar, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/4 tsp); fresh whipped cream for serving.

shortbread crust 2

This crust was my favorite part. Pulse the cookies in a food processor to make fine crumbs, then pulse in sugar and butter till combined. Press the mixture in the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan, then bake for 15 minutes until golden. (I included the shortbread packaging in the picture below - maybe this would be a way to use up any extra Girl Scout shortbread cookies though?)

strawberry pie ingredients

To make the filling, select 20 of the hulled whole strawberries that are all the same size and set aside (this will give the finished pie more texture). Cut the rest of the berries into 1/4-inch dice and toss with the sugar and lemon juice. Let stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries have released a lot of their juice.

strawberry syrup prep

Drain the berries into a large glass measuring cup, then add enough water till you have 2 cups of liquid. Transfer the liquid into a medium saucepan and set the diced berries aside.


Sprinkle the gelatin packet into the saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously until the gelatin dissolves.

ice bath

Stir in the diced berries and transfer the mixture to a bowl set inside an ice bath (I used 2 bowls - the bottom one filled w/ice packs and ice cubes, set the other bowl w/strawberry gelatin inside, then filled the empty space with cold water). Stir until the mixture begins to solidify. The recipe says this will be 20-30 minutes, but it was at least an hour for me.

strawberry pie prep 2

Spoon 1/2 cup of the filling into the pie crust, then arrange the 20 whole strawberries (stem ends down) on the filling. Then spoon the rest of the filling around and on top of the whole fruit. Chill pie until the filling is set (the recipe says 4 hours - more like 8 for me).

Monday, June 2, 2008

asparagus-ricotta tart with soppressata

asparagus ricotta tart

I've seen a lot of food blogs touting all kinds of tarts and puff pastries, so I figured it's about time I featured one on AHB. In the April issue of Bon Appetit, there was a spring-y "asparagus-ricotta tart" that sneaks in little slices of soppressata, which spices up an otherwise fluffy tea party type of dish (yes, I really just called it that). It was delicious, but to feed my hungry bear, I'd have to make about 3 of them for one meal - and there's no way I can convince him that this is high-protein and low-carb enough. I think it would be best as an appetizer for cocktail hour, which I'll probably do in the future.

Grocery list: 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (note, I used about half a package of phyllo dough, spreading olive oil between the sheets, and it was great), 1 egg, 1 pound asparagus, 1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta, 3 ounces hot soppressata (note, this is twice what the original called for), 3 ounces grated comte or gruyere cheese.

fillo dough

If you end up using phyllo dough like I did, you'll want to prep it by brushing olive oil between the sheets. I used about 8-10 layers of phyllo, or half the package. If you were using puff pastry, you'd have to roll it out, then use the beaten egg to brush around the edges to form a crust. Transfer whatever crust you use to a 13 x 10 rimmed baking sheet.

tart ingredients ready

Next, steam asparagus for 3 minutes, then cool in an ice water bath and drain. Cut off the top 2 inches of the asparagus stalks and set aside to use as toppings for the tart.

pureed asparagus

Roughly chop the rest of the asparagus and place in a food processor to puree; add the ricotta, the rest of the beaten egg, 3 tsp olive oil, and salt and pepper.

asparagus filling

Transfer this puree to a bowl, then stir in chopped soppressata and about half of the grated gruyere.

asparagus tart ready to bake

Spread the filling evenly on the bottom of the pastry / phyllo crust. Toss the asparagus tips with 1 tsp olive oil and more salt and pepper, then arrange on the top of the tart. Sprinkle with the remaining gruyere cheese.

finished asparagus tart

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees, until the filling is set. Can be served warm or room temperature.